FRIENDS OF NEWPORT PRESERVATION
March 2, 2017
Mrs. Richard “Monty” Burnham, Chair
The Preservation Society of Newport County
424 Bellevue Avenue Newport, RI 02840
Re: Restoration of the Landscape at The Breakers
We are pleased to let you know that we have some wonderful historic photo simulations of the landscape at The Breakers in the northwest quadrant of The Breakers, in the location proposed for the new welcome center. Heritage Landscapes LLC has carefully adapted photographs and records of the Vanderbilt Family, dating back to early in the 20th Century to demonstrate what the landscape could look like if properly restored.
These photo simulations are critical information that counters the representations and conclusions of the Society’s employees and experts, as framed in testimony and reports presented to the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Historic Commission, and the Newport Historic District Commission, Planning Board and Zoning Board of Review. The Society’s flawed position is based on the current degraded condition of the area, the assumption that there is little historical context and data that would enable landscape restoration, the notion that the welcome center is necessary to meet services currently provided elsewhere at The Breakers, and the foregone conclusion that the welcome center will be built as proposed. This is truly unfortunate, as members of Vanderbilt Family and others could have provided information to the Society about the integrity of the landscape at The Breakers. That integrity is there. The landscape can be recovered from its diminishment over the years by nature, neglect and the presence of the visitor tent next to the Gatehouse. Regeneration and future maintenance do not need to require 50 staff, as in the old days, nor do the exact plantings have to be replaced to make the landscape as major an attraction as the house.
The first rule of preservation is to “do no harm.” The construction of the welcome center will do irrevocable harm to The Breakers.
There is still time to do the right thing. For considerable time we have sought a dialogue with the Society about the location and uses of the proposed center. You are now at very late stage of the planning process. In the spirit of “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone” we urge you to step back and realize how important it is for the Society and Newport to keep The Breakers intact as a national historic landmark. The considerable sums budgeted for the landscape around the center could be applied to restoration and preservation of the serpentine paths and plantings in the northwest quadrant. The funds allocated for the center itself could be spent on a facility in the parking lot across the street from The Breakers. This would meet the needs of visitors and at the same time achieve your mission of conserving open space and preserving landscapes. Newport would retain a treasured and historic landscape that is unique, original and integral to the Society’s crown jewel.
Our sincere wish is to meet with you to present the Historic Landscape simulations and begin a discussion to reach a win-win solution for all. We believe that this is in the public interest and consistent with the Society’s fiduciary duty to hold The Breakers as a public trust. We are confident that the Society can regain strong public support by reaching a compromise that respects The Breakers and the Newport community. Our public campaign to relocate the welcome center and restore the landscape is gathering broad endorsement and momentum – surely it is time to listen and work with us.
Please share this letter with your fellow Trustees. We look forward to hearing from you, and request a reply by March 8, 2017. Thank you.
Friends of Newport Restoration
Joanne and Henry Breyer
Mary Joan Hoene
Elizabeth “Lisette” Prince
Diana and Jerry Slocum
Gladys V. Szapary
Paul L. Szapary
Gladys R. Thomas
Bellevue Avenue Ochre Point Neighborhood Association
By: Linda Sawyer, President
Tom Goddard, Treasurer