By Sean Flynn
NEWPORT — About 130 people, including members of the Vanderbilt family, gathered at the La Forge Casino Restaurant on Thursday night to rally residents against constructing a welcome center on the grounds of The Breakers and to persuade trustees of the Preservation Society of Newport County to put it elsewhere.
A newly formed group called Friends of Newport Preservation, which opposes the Preservation Society’s intention to break ground for the welcome center in a few weeks, organized the gathering and a petition drive “to relocate the proposed welcome center off the grounds of The Breakers.”
The Preservation Society announced its intention to build a one-story pavilion in the northwest corner of The Breakers grounds in April 2013. The plan has been through multiple hearings of the city Historic District Commission, Planning Board and Zoning Board of Review, as well as the state Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, and Superior and Supreme courts since then, but the new group is calling “for a fresh start.”
The La Forge setting featured photos and slides from the Vanderbilt family archives and many of the people who spoke and socialized had a close connection with The Breakers over the years, but none more so than descendants of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and his wife, Alice Claypoole Gwynne, who built the huge mansion in 1893 to 1895.
Paul and Gladys Szapary, a brother and sister who still spend summers in the third-floor apartment of The Breakers, and their cousin, Jamie Wade Comstock, all spoke about their shared memories of the family’s summer home to the crowd of people packed into the restaurant’s event room. Their common plea was to restore the grounds to their original landscape and not put any new structures on it.