Vanderbilts sign ad opposing visitors center at The Breakers

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Preservationists, architects and dozens of members of the Vanderbilt family have taken out an ad in a newspaper in hopes of quashing a plan to build a visitors center at The Breakers estate in Newport.

Around 100 people signed onto the ad urging the Preservation Society of Newport County to abandon a plan for a visitors center on the 13-acre grounds of the National Historic Landmark built in the late 1800s by Cornelius Vanderbilt II. Opponents say they should build it across the street or elsewhere.

Signatories to the letter include 45 members of the Vanderbilt family, including the designer Gloria Vanderbilt, mother of CNN’s Anderson Cooper, and John LeBoutillier, a former Republican congressman from New York.

The ad, which ran Thursday in Newport This Week, says the plan would “desecrate The Breakers landscape” and “permanently mar this national symbol of Newport’s Gilded Age.”

It includes a letter from Robert A.M. Stern, a noted architect and former dean of the Yale School of Architecture, who wrote that it is a “most unwelcome location, threatening the integrity of the mansion grounds.”

“It seems that any new construction at The Breakers should occur outside its gates,” Stern wrote.

Messages left with the Preservation Society were not immediately returned Friday. The group has said the center would be tucked in a little-used portion of the estate and shielded from view. It has said it would provide a sheltered place that would be easily accessible for the disable and others to buy tickets, use the bathroom, and purchase snacks and sandwiches.

Several Vanderbilt family members have been raising concerns about the plan since it was first proposed in 2013. The Preservation Society has previously said opposition to the visitors center was by a small and vocal minority.

Cornelius Vanderbilt II, president and chairman of the New York Central Railroad, spared no expense when he built the 70-room mansion, which was completed in 1895. The nonprofit Preservation Society owns several mansions in the Newport area built by the Vanderbilts and others and is Rhode Island’s largest cultural institution by revenue.

The ad comes a few weeks before the fight over the plan goes before the Rhode Island Supreme Court. Arguments are scheduled Oct. 25.

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