Hedonistic Opulence: Newport's Crown Jewel
The home built by Cornelius Vanderbilt II in Newport, Rhode Island ranks among the top
five "Gilded Age" mansions for sheer over-the-top magnificence of appointments
and finishes. Indeed, architect Richard Morris Hunt outdid himself and created
a building in the Italian Renaissance style. No expense was spared to bring the
finest materials in the world to be used. The result literally takes one's
breath away upon approaching, and again when entering the building.
Vanderbilt was Chairman of the New York Central Railroad System and grandson
of shipping magnate Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. Seeking a "summer cottage,"
he purchased a wood-framed house on spacious grounds overlooking the water in 1890. Sadly, the structure was destroyed by
fire in 1892.
A Phoenix Rises From The Ashes
Vanderbilt commissioned architect Hunt to erect a 70-room Italianate palazzo on the same property
in 1893. The firm of Allard and Sons of Paris was responsible for fixtures,
furnishings and finishes. The family's private quarters were decorated by Ogden
Codman, a prominent Boston architect.
The result is a larger-than-life mansion that is considered Newport's
grandest. Looking from the mezzanine balcony down upon the great hall, one can
only imagine Gilded Age revelers in evening wear dancing to an
orchestra. A trip to the solarium, replete to this day with the requisite
gigantic potted palm trees underscores the fact that the Vanderbilts
were so wealthy, they could afford to bring the tropics with them.
Mrs. William Vanderbilt held some of the most magnificent balls of Newport's
summer season. The dinner parties were also memorable. Even the help was
privileged with a brightly-lit, state-of-the-art kitchen in which to prepare the
repasts large and small for the Vanderbilts and their guests.
The house was inherited by Gladys Vanderbilt Szechenyi (she married Count Szechenyi of Hungary), the youngest of the
seven Vanderbilt children, in 1934. Gladys was committed to preserving Newport's
architectural gems and gave generously to The Preservation Society of Newport
County. The Breakers was opened to the public in 1948 with all admission
proceeds going to the Society.
The Preservation Society bought the house from Gladys's heirs in 1972. The
house is a National Historic Landmark.
Tickets for tours and special events can be obtained at
www.newportmansions.org or at the
Society's office in Newport harbor. The Breakers is located at 44 Ochre Point
Ave., Newport, RI 02840.
http://www.galenfrysinger.com/newport_breakers.htm (Accessed 9/24/07)
Official Site of the Newport Mansions: