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.
 

Preservation

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.
 

SOURCES:

http://architecture.about.com/library/blbreakersmansion.htm (Accessed 9/24/07)

http://www.galenfrysinger.com/newport_breakers.htm (Accessed 9/24/07)

Official Site of the Newport Mansions: http://www.newportmansions.org/ (Accessed 9/24/07)

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/78494/The-Breakers (Accessed 9/24/07)

 

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