Wel­come cen­ter to open at man­sion af­ter long bat­tle


NEW­PORT, R.I. — The group that owns The Break­ers man­sion in Rhode Is­land is open­ing a wel­come cen­ter that has drawn stren­u­ous op­po­si­tion from neigh­bors, preser­va­tion­ists and many de­scen­dants of the Van­der­bilt fam­ily.

The Preser­va­tion So­ci­ety of New­port County is cut­ting the rib­bon to­day on the grounds of the Na­tional His­toric Land­mark in New­port. Rail­road mag­nate Cor­nelius Van­der­bilt II built the op­u­lent 70-room man­sion over­look­ing the At­lantic Ocean in the late 1800s.

The preser­va­tion so­ci­ety is ex­pect­ing about 500 peo­ple and Demo­cratic Gov. Gina Rai­mondo at the event. Rai­mondo said she’s thrilled to have a new, ex­cit­ing way to wel­come tourists to the in­cred­i­ble man­sions and to Rhode Is­land.

The so­ci­ety has said for years that vis­i­tors de­serve world-class hos­pi­tal­ity at The Break­ers, which is per­haps the grand­est of New­port’s sum­mer homes.

But op­po­nents said they wanted the wel­come cen­ter to be built across the street or else­where, so it wouldn’t “per­ma­nently mar” the his­toric char­ac­ter of the land­scape. The neigh­bor­hood as­so­ci­a­tion lost a law­suit op­pos­ing the plan in 2015. The Rhode Is­land Supreme Court de­clined to in­ter­vene in an at­tempt to block zon­ing ap­proval last year. A ground­break­ing soon fol­lowed.

Preser­va­tion­ist Ron­ald Lee Flem­ing, who lives near The Break­ers, said he’s still con­cerned about the vis­ual im­pact. Paul Sza­pary, a de­scen­dent of Cor­nelius Van­der­bilt II, drove by the grounds re­cently. He said the cen­ter is larger and more in­tru­sive than he feared.

“They re­ally are sup­posed to present these houses and prop­er­ties as near as pos­si­ble to the way they would’ve been when fam­i­lies were ac­tu­ally liv­ing there,” Sza­pary said Wed­nes­day. “Putting a mod­ern struc­ture like this right on the grounds goes very much against that mis­sion.”

The preser­va­tion so­ci­ety says the wel­come cen­ter, a $5.4 mil­lion project, will pro­vide mod­ern bath­room and tick­et­ing fa­cil­i­ties and a place to get re­fresh­ments. About 450,000 peo­ple visit The Break­ers an­nu­ally.

The one-story cen­ter is about 3,750 square feet. It’s set within a cy­press and beech grove to help screen it from The Break­ers. The ar­chi­tec­ture was in­spired by pav­il­ions and con­ser­va­to­ries from the Gilded Age.

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