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The following was submitted by Friends of Newport Preservation, the views and opinions do not represent those of our staff, advertisers or sponsors.
The Newport Preservation Society has refused to meet with The Friends of Newport Preservation to seek a compromise regarding the controversial proposal to build a party venue on the grounds of The Breakers, next to the gatehouse designed as part of the estate. In a letter to the chair of the Society board dated March 2 the community group had sought a meeting to discuss alternatives and find common ground. The olive branch was rejected by the Preservation Society.
“We are looking for a collaborative approach,” said Mary Joan Hoene of the Friends group. “We want to work together with the Preservation Society to make a plan that protects The Breakers and works for everyone. There’s no question that visitor services are needed, but the current scheme is poorly considered and contrary to the Society’s preservation mission.”
The group offered to share historic photo simulations focusing on the northwest quadrant of The Breakers’ property, the proposed location of the controversial new venue. Heritage Landscapes LLC, an internationally-recognized preservation landscape architecture and planning firm has carefully adapted photographs and records of the Vanderbilt Family, dating back to the early 20th century, to demonstrate what the landscape could look like if properly restored.
The Preservation Society refused a meeting in a terse, one-page letter.
The Friends of Newport Preservation contends that the Heritage Landscapes LLC photo simulations counter the representations and conclusions of the Society’s employees and experts about the grounds of The Breakers.
“The Preservation Society has consistently provided inaccurate, misleading testimony and reports to the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Historic Commission, and the Newport Historic District Commission, Planning Board, Zoning Board of Review and City Council,” said Hoene. “Our work would give them a chance to be historically accurate and to correct the record.”
Ron Fleming, a member of the Friends group, commented “The Preservation Society claims that the area is too far gone and that they don’t have enough information to restore the landscape. But we have proven that The Breakers’ historic property can be recovered from its diminishment over the years by nature, neglect and the presence of the visitor tent. There is still time to save this authentic landscape.”
Designed by renowned Boston landscape firm Bowditch & Bowditch for Cornelius Vanderbilt II in the 1890’s. ”The historic grounds and gardens of The Breakers are an important, original American landscape and a tourist attraction in their own right,” Mr. Fleming added. “We believe that this iconic property and most recognized symbol of Newport should be seen as intended by its creators. Moving the proposed center will honor The Breakers legacy and enhance the visitor experience.”
The Friends of Newport Preservation remains confident that the Society can regain strong public support by reaching a compromise that respects The Breakers and the Newport community. In addressing the group’s commitment to the issues Ms. Hoene states, “Our public campaign to relocate the welcome center and restore the landscape is gathering broad endorsement and momentum – surely it is time to stop hiding behind expensive consultants and lawyers and listen to the community.”
About the Friends of Newport Preservation: Friends of Newport Preservation is working to protect the historic integrity of Newport’s most valuable historic assets and the quality of life for all residents. The group organized to advocate for the protection of The Breakers, recognizing that the proposed development of the property will have an adverse effect on all of Newport. Our efforts have support from community members, local and national experts in preservation, conservation, planning, architecture, and landscape design. The group’s ultimate goal is that our resources will continue to enchant Rhode Islanders and visitors alike, while enabling Newport to prosper as a residential community through protecting its historic landmarks.
Friends of Newport Preservation Members: Joanne and Henry Breyer, Donald Christ, Maureen Donnell, Ron Fleming, Linda Gordon, Dodo Hamilton, Mary Joan Hoene, Judy McLennan, Stephanie McLennan, Elizabeth “Lisette” Prince, Diana and Jerry Slocum, Gladys V. Szapary, Paul L. Szapary, Gladys Roberts Thomas, William Vareika