The Breakers

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The Breakers
The Breakers Newport.jpg
Rear elevation of The Breakers, 2009
The Breakers is located in Rhode Island
The Breakers
Location44 Ochre Point Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island
Coordinates41°28′11″N 71°17′55″W / 41.46972°N 71.29861°W / 41.46972; -71.29861Coordinates: 41°28′11″N 71°17′55″W / 41.46972°N 71.29861°W / 41.46972; -71.29861
Built1893
ArchitectRichard Morris Hunt
Architectural styleItalian Renaissance
Governing bodyPrivate
NRHP Reference #71000019
Significant dates
Added to NRHPSeptember 10, 1971[1]
Designated NHLOctober 12, 1994[2]
 
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The Breakers
The Breakers Newport.jpg
Rear elevation of The Breakers, 2009
The Breakers is located in Rhode Island
The Breakers
Location44 Ochre Point Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island
Coordinates41°28′11″N 71°17′55″W / 41.46972°N 71.29861°W / 41.46972; -71.29861Coordinates: 41°28′11″N 71°17′55″W / 41.46972°N 71.29861°W / 41.46972; -71.29861
Built1893
ArchitectRichard Morris Hunt
Architectural styleItalian Renaissance
Governing bodyPrivate
NRHP Reference #71000019
Significant dates
Added to NRHPSeptember 10, 1971[1]
Designated NHLOctober 12, 1994[2]

The Breakers is a Vanderbilt mansion located on Ochre Point Avenue, Newport, Rhode Island, United States on the Atlantic Ocean. It is a National Historic Landmark, a contributing property to the Bellevue Avenue Historic District, and is owned and operated by the Preservation Society of Newport County.

The Breakers was built as the Newport summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, a member of the wealthy United States Vanderbilt family. It is built in an Italian Renaissance style. Designed by renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt, with interior decoration by Jules Allard and Sons and Ogden Codman, Jr., the 70-room mansion has a gross area of 125,339 square feet and 62,482 square feet of living area on five floors.[3] The house was constructed between 1893 and 1895. The Ochre Point Avenue entrance is marked by sculpted iron gates and the 30-foot (9.1 m) high walkway gates are part of a 12-foot-high limestone and iron fence that borders the property on all but the ocean side. The footprint of the house covers approximately an acre of the 13-acre estate on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

History[edit]

View of The Breakers from the front drive
Front Gates of the Breakers, 2013
Rear view facing sea, 1968
Side view of mansion, 1968

Cornelius Vanderbilt II purchased the grounds in 1885 for $450,000. When the previous mansion on the property owned by Pierre Lorillard IV burned on November 25, 1892, Cornelius Vanderbilt II commissioned famed architect Richard Morris Hunt to rebuild it in splendor. Vanderbilt insisted that the building be made as fireproof as possible and as such, the structure of the building used steel trusses and no wooden parts. He even required that the boiler be located away from the house, in an underground space below the front lawn.[4]

The designers created an interior using marble imported from Italy and Africa, and rare woods and mosaics from countries around the world. It also included architectural elements (such as the library mantel) purchased from chateaux in France. Expansion was finally finished in 1892.[5]

The Breakers is the architectural and social archetype of the "Gilded Age," a period when members of the Vanderbilt family were among the major industrialists of America.[6] In 1895, the year of its completion, The Breakers was the largest, most opulent house in the Newport area. It represents the taste of an American upper class—socially ambitious but lacking a noble pedigree—who were determined to imitate and surpass the European aristocracy in lifestyle; a taste and ambition which was cynically noted by many members of the European upper-classes. However, this cynicism, coupled with assumptions of vulgarity, was not so deeply rooted that it prevented the daughters of these lavish houses and their associated dollars from marrying into the European aristocracy.[7]

Vanderbilt died from a cerebral hemorrhage caused by a second stroke in 1899 at the age of 55, leaving The Breakers to his wife, Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt. She outlived her husband by 35 years and died at the age of 89 in 1934. In her will, The Breakers was given to her youngest daughter, Countess Gladys Széchenyi (1886–1965), essentially because Gladys lacked American property. Also, none of Alice's other children were interested in the property, while Gladys had always loved the estate.

The Breakers survived the great New England Hurricane of 1938 with minimal damage and minor flooding of the grounds.

In 1948, Gladys leased the high-maintenance property to The Preservation Society of Newport County for $1 a year. The Preservation Society bought The Breakers and approximately 90% of its furnishings in 1972 for $365,000 from Countess Sylvia Szapary, the daughter of Gladys. However, the agreement with the Society granted life tenancy to the Countess Szapary. Upon her death in 1998, The Preservation Society agreed to allow the family to continue to live on the third floor, which is not open to the public.[8]

It is now the most-visited attraction in Rhode Island with approximately 400,000 visitors annually and is open year-round for tours.

Gardens[edit]

Gardens at The Breakers

The pea-gravel driveway is lined with maturing pin oaks and red maples. The formally landscaped terrace is surrounded by Japanese yew, Chinese juniper, and dwarf hemlock. The trees of The Breakers' grounds act as screens that increase the sense of distance between The Breakers and its Newport neighbors. Among the more unusual imported trees are two examples of the Blue Atlas Cedar, a native of North Africa. Clipped hedges of Japanese yew and Pfitzer juniper line the tree–shaded foot paths that meander about the grounds. Informal plantings of arbor vitae, taxus, Chinese juniper, and dwarf hemlock provide attractive foregrounds for the walls that enclose the formally landscaped terrace. The grounds also contain several varieties of other rare trees, particularly copper and weeping beeches. These were hand-selected by Ernest W. Bowditch, a landscape architect and civil engineer based in the Boston area. Bowditch’s original pattern for the south parterre garden was determined from old photographs and laid out in pink and white alyssum and blue ageratum. The wide borders paralleling the wrought iron fence are planted with rhododendron, mountain laurel, dogwoods, and many other flowering shrubs that effectively screen the grounds from street traffic and give visitors a feeling of seclusion.

Layout[edit]

Basement[edit]

First floor[edit]

The Great Hall
The library
The kitchen
Mr. Vanderbilt's bedroom

Second floor[edit]

[National Park Service, Department of the interior 1]

Third floor[edit]

The third floor contains eight bedrooms and a sitting room decorated in Louis XVI style walnut paneling by Ogden Codman. The North Wing of the third–floor quarters were reserved for domestic servants. With ceilings near 18 feet high, Richard Morris Hunt created two separate third floors to allow a mass congregation of servant bed chambers. This was all in part of the configuration of the house, built in Italian Renaissance style, that included a pitched roof. Flat–roofed French classical houses in the area allowed a concealed wing for staffing at the time. The Breakers does not feature this luxury.

A total of 30 bedrooms are located in the two third–floor staff quarters. Three additional bedrooms for the Butler, Chef, and Visiting Valet are located on the Mezzanine "Entresol" Floor located between the first and second floor just to the rear of the main kitchen.

Attic floor[edit]

The Attic floor contained more staff quarters, general storage areas, and the innovative cisterns. One smaller cistern supplied hydraulic pressure for the 1895 Otis lift, still functioning in the house though wired for electricity in 1933. Two larger cisterns supplied fresh and salt water to the many bathrooms in the house.

Over the Grand Staircase is a stained glass skylight designed by artist John La Farge. Originally installed in the Vanderbilts' 1 West 57th Street (New York City) townhouse dining room, the skylight was removed in 1894 during an expansion of the house.

The architect[edit]

The Breakers is also a definitive expression of Beaux-Arts architecture in American domestic design by one of the country's most influential architects, Richard Morris Hunt. The Breakers—Hunt's final project—is one of the few surviving works by Hunt that has not been demolished during the last century and is therefore valuable for its rarity as well as its architectural excellence. The Breakers made Hunt the "dean of American architecture", as he was called by his contemporaries,[12] and helped define the era in American life which Hunt helped to shape.[citation needed]

Materials[edit]

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23. 
  2. ^ "Breakers, The". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-06-28. 
  3. ^ "Newport County Tax Records". Vision Government Solutions. Retrieved August 2, 2014. 
  4. ^ Vanderbilt, Arthur T. Fortune's Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt Perennial: 1989. 185-7.
  5. ^ Vanderbilt, 185-6.
  6. ^ Gannon, Thomas. Newport Mansions: the Gilded Age. Fort Church Publishers, Inc., 1982: p. 8.
  7. ^ Mackenzie Stuart, p240 and throughout.
  8. ^ Miller, G. Wayne (2000-07-07). "Fortune's Children". A Nearly Perfect Summer (Providence Journal). Retrieved 2007-08-10. "The Breakers left family ownership three decades ago, when the Preservation Society bought it for $365,000, a pittance—but let Paul, Gladys and their mother continue summering on the third floor, formerly servants' quarters. Mother died in 1998 but her children summer there still, hidden from the hundreds of thousands of tourists who explore below." 
  9. ^ United States Department of the Interior / National Register of Historic Places Registration Form (Rev.8-86)
  10. ^ Newport Preservation Society's Breakers Audio Tour
  11. ^ "National Historic Landmark Nomination". 
  12. ^ Wiseman, Carter (2000). Twentieth-century American Architecture: The Buildings and Their Makers, p. 30. W. W. Norton & Company. Retrieved 30 April 2014.
  13. ^ They used Gold leaf on the design. Mansion wall panels found to be platinum – The Boston Globe

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]