The Breakers
(Vanderbilt Mansion)

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As the previous mansion on the property owned by Pierre Lorillard IV burned down in 1892, Cornelius Vanderbilt II insisted that the building be made as fireproof as possible and as such, the structure of the building used steel trusses and no wooden parts. He even required that the furnace be located away from the house, under Ochre Point Avenue; in winter there is an area in front of the main gate over the furnace where snow and ice always melt.

The designers created an interior using marble imported from Italy and Africa plus rare woods and mosaics from countries around the world. It also included architectural elements (such as the library mantel) purchased from chateaux in France. The Gold Room was originally constructed in France, disassembled, shipped in airtight cases, and re-assembled in place in Newport.

 

The Breakers is the architectural and social archetype of the "Gilded Age", a period when members of the Vanderbilt family were among the most prominent industrialists of America. Indeed, "if the Gilded Age were to be summed up by a single house, that house would have to be The Breakers." In 1895, the year of its completion, The Breakers was the largest, most opulent house in a summer resort considered the social capital of America.

Vanderbilt died from a cerebral hemorrhage caused from a second stroke in 1899 at the age of 55, leaving the Breakers to his wife, Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt. She outlived her husband by 35 years and died at the age of 89 in 1934. In her will, The Breakers was given to her youngest daughter Gladys essentially because Gladys lacked American property. Also, none of Alice's other children were interested in the property while Gladys had always loved the estate.

The Breakers survived the great New England Hurricane of 1938 with minimal damage and minor flooding of the grounds.

 

Gateway to The Breakers in Newport, Rhode Island, United States
 
 

Although the mansion is owned by the Society, the original furnishings displayed throughout the house are still owned by the family.

It is now the most-visited attraction in Rhode Island with approximately 300,000 visitors annually and is open year-round for tours.

In April 2009 the museum stopped offering personalized tours by tour guides due to a decision by management. Patrons now receive standard audio headsets.

 

"The Breakers", a Vanderbilt mansion in Newport, Rhode Island. Rear view, facing the sea.

 
In 1948 Countess Gladys Széchenyi (1886–1965), the youngest daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, leased the high-maintenance property to the non-profit Preservation Society of Newport County for $1 a year. The Society bought the Breakers outright in 1972 for $365,000 from Countess Sylvia Szapary, the daughter of Gladys. However, the agreement with the Society allows the family to continue to live on the third floor, which is not open to the public. Countess Sylvia lived there part time until her death on March 1, 1998. Gladys and Paul Szapary, Sylvia's children, summer there to this day, hidden from the hundreds of thousands of tourists who explore below.[4]
 
 
 
The pea-gravel driveway is lined with maturing pin oaks and red maples. The formally landscaped terrace is surrounded by Japanese yew, Chinese juniper, and dwarf hemlock. The trees of The Breakers' grounds act as screens that increase the sense of distance between The Breakers and its Newport neighbors. Among the more unusual imported trees are two examples of the Blue Atlas Cedar, a native of North Africa. Clipped hedges of Japanese yew and Pfitzer juniper line the tree shaded foot paths that meander about the grounds. Informal plantings of arbor vitae, taxus, Chinese juniper, and dwarf hemlock provide attractive foregrounds for the walls that enclose the formally landscaped terrace. The grounds also contain several varieties of other rare trees, particularly copper and weeping beeches. These were hand-selected by James Bowditch, a forester based in the Boston area. Bowditch’s original pattern for the south parterre garden was determined from old photographs and laid out in pink and white alyssum and blue ageratum. The wide borders paralleling the wrought iron fence are planted with rhododendronlaureldogwoods, and many other flowering shrubs that effectively screen the grounds from street traffic and give the visitor a feeling of complete seclusion.
 
 
 

Basement

  • Laundry
  • Staff's Restrooms

First Floor

  • Entrance Foyer
  • Gentlemen’s Reception Room
  • Ladies’ Reception Room
  • Great Hall (50 ft x 50 ft (15 m) x 50 ft) - Over each of the six doors which lead from the Great Hall are limestone figure groups celebrating humanity's progress in art, science, and industry: Galileo, representing science; Dante, representing literature; Apollo, representing the arts; Mercury, representing speed and commerce; Richard Morris Hunt, representing architecture; and Karl Bitter, representing sculpture
  • Main Staircase (though visitors may not use them)
  • Arcade
  • Library
  • Music Room
  • Morning Room
  • Porch
  • Lower Loggia
  • Billiard Room
  • Dining Room
  • Marriage Chest
  • Breakfast Room
  • Pantry
  • Kitchen
 

The Great Hall of The Breakers
 
 

Second Floor

  • Mr. Vanderbilt’s Bedroom
  • Mrs. Vanderbilt’s Bedroom
  • Miss Gertrude Vanderbilt’s Bedroom
  • Upper Loggia
  • Guest Bedroom
  • Countess Szechenyi’s Bedroom
  • There are also two other small bedrooms located on the second floor.

Third Floor

The third floor contains eight bedrooms and a sitting room decorated in Louis XVI style walnut paneling by Ogden Codman. The North Wing of the third floor quarters were reserved for domestic servants. With ceilings near 18 feet high, Richard Morris Hunt created two separate third floors to allow a mass congregation of servant bed chambers. This was all in part of the configuration of the house, built in Italian Renaissance style, that called for a pitched roof. Flat roofed French classical houses in the area allowed a concealed wing for staffing at the time. The Breakers does not feature this luxury.

A total of 30 bedrooms are located in the two third floor staff quarters. Three additional bedrooms for the Butler, Chef, and Visiting Valet are located on the Mezzanine "Entrasol" Floor located between the first and second floor just to the rear of the main kitchen

 

 
 

The Breaker´s Library

Music Room
 

Attic Floor

The Attic floor contained more staff quarters, general storage areas, and the innovative cisterns. One smaller cistern supplied hydraulic pressure for the 1895 Otis lift, still functioning in the house though wired for electricity in 1933. Two larger cisterns supplied fresh and salt water to the many bathrooms in the house.

Over the Grand Staircase sits a stained glass skylight designed by artist John La Farge. Originally built in the Vanderbilt's 1 West 57th Street townhouse dining room, the skylight was removed in 1894 during an expansion of the house.

 

The Breaker´s Kitchen

The Architect

The Breakers is also a definitive expression of Beaux-Arts architecture in American domestic design by one of the country's founding fathers of architecture, Richard Morris Hunt. The Breakers is one of the few surviving works of Hunt that has not been demolished in the last century and is therefore valuable for its rarity as well as its architectural excellence. The Breakers was Hunt’s final work, and is the singular house that has withstood the vagaries of time to be remembered as the monument that was the architect’s greatest achievement. The Breakers made Hunt the "dean of American architecture" as well as helping define the era in American life which Hunt helped to shape.

 

Materials

 

Bedroom of Cornelius Vanderbilt II at The Breakers

The 'summer cottage' of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, railroad magnate. Architect - Richard Morris Hunt. Modeled after the seaside palaces of Genoa, the house covers approximately 130000 sq.ft, has 70 rooms and 23 bathrooms. This mansion is aptly named after the waves of the Atlantic crashing onto the rocks. The rooms include a 50 ft wide, long and high Grand Hall, a Music Room, a dazzling 2400 sq ft dining room having twelve enormous, rose alabaster pillars and a Billiards room having a detailed mosaic ceiling and twenty varieties of marble. The Library has a massive marble fireplace acquired from a 16th century French Chateau. The bathtub is carved out of a single piece of marble and has a supply of hot, cold and saltwater tapped directly from the ocean. It took over two years to construct the various parts of this house which were shipped from over all parts of Europe.