Preservation Society breaks ground on Breakers welcome center

NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — After years of legal battles, The Preservation Society of Newport Thursday broke ground on a new welcome center on the property of the historic Breakers mansion.

Construction on the facility is expected to take one year to complete and – according to the Preservation Society – will provide indoor ticketing, expanded modern comfort facilities, and refreshment service.

The groundbreaking comes amid opposition by neighbors and preservationists, who say putting the welcome center inside the front gate of the mansion compromises the estate’s historic integrity.

“I don’t know of a museum in America that doesn’t have a place to eat,” said Trudy Coxe, executive director and CEO of the Preservation Society. “It’s standard policy now. It’s just the way things are done.”

“It’s a sad day for us,” said Paul Szapary of the Friends of Newport Preservation. “We’ve been fighting long and hard against the location of this visitors center. We very much understand the need for a visitor center, but we feel that this the wrong spot for it.”

The historic landmark was built by railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt II during the Gilded Age. Opponents of the welcome center believe the grounds should remain as they were in the early 1900’s.  

“This is destroying that opportunity,” Szapary added, “because it’s putting a modern structure where none was intended.”

Also among those opposing the construction are members of the Vanderbilt family and the Bellevue Ochre Point Neighborhood Association.

The neighborhood association lost a lawsuit opposing the plan in 2015. Their petition with the state Supreme Court was also denied.

A rendering of the proposed Welcome Center in a grove of the Breakers mansion. (From Preservation Society of Newport County)