Building of the Week: The Breakers, Newport, Rhode Island

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Finished in 1895, The Breakers is the first of two Vanderbilt Mansions in the high-tone city of Newport, Rhode Island—the New England summer resort of the wealthy and famous. Considered one of the finest examples of Golden Age architecture in the U.S., The Breakers represents the imposing Neoclassical style which defined Beaux Arts Architecture.

Members of the Vanderbilt Family, it seems, became easily bored with their homes and always searched for new, opulent digs. Goodness knows they had enough properties at their disposal. This particular mansion—of seventy rooms and totaling over 65,000 square feet—was built for Cornelius Vanderbilt II between 1893 and 1895. Vanderbilt enlisted celebrated architect Richard Morris Hunt to design the Beaux Arts Mansion which was to sit upon land that had previously sported another grand home—lost in a fire in 1892.

Because Vanderbilt was concerned that his new palace, like its predecessor, might also be consumed by a fire, Hunt designed the mansion to be built from stone and metal with no supporting structures of wood. The mansion’s furnaces are, to this day, located outside of the house—at a great distance away. They remain under the entrance to the estate. In the winter, the snow and ice on the land over the underground furnace rooms always melts.

In true Neoclassical style the house is a symmetrical plan, built around an impressive Great Hall. The interior of the house boasts the finest Italian and African marbles, rare woods, extravagant ornamentation, mosaics and architectural remnants from historical structures which were purchased abroad. The stained glass ceiling in the great hall was actually extracted from another home belonging to the Vanderbilts.

Though the house now belongs to The Preservation Society of Newport County, the furnishings and artifacts inside are still the property of the Vanderbilt family who occasionally still use the ornate Louis XVI-style apartments on the third floor.

When in Newport, a visit to the Breakers would be well worth your while. Touring the glorious, formal gardens and this magnificent house would be like returning to 1895. To learn more about visiting The Breakers, visit the Web site of The Preservation Society of Newport County.


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