Published: May 28, 2002
NEWPORT, R.I. – One of America’s most famous Gilded Age mansions, The Breakers, is undergoing its first major architectural restoration in 107 years, a $2 million project undertaken by The Preservation Society of Newport County.
The Breakers (1893-1895), a National Historic Landmark built by Richard Morris Hunt for railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt II, is the crown jewel in the Preservation Society’s collection of 11 historic houses that trace 250 years of American architectural and social development. The 70-room Gilded Age mansion is visited annually by more than 375,000 people.
The year-long restoration project will include repairing, repointing and cleaning the exterior walls of the Italian Renaissance-style villa, rebuilding several chimneys, rebuilding the entire Spanish tile roofing system — including the installation of 25,000 new tiles — restoring or replacing all rooftop skylights and repairing and painting window and door trim.
“This work can’t be put off any longer,” said Preservation Society CEO Trudy Coxe, “Deterioration of the roof and cracks in the walls have led to interior water damage and could threaten the priceless collections inside. Doing the work now will ensure that this great national treasure can be enjoyed by many generations of visitors to come.
“While this means that much of the building will be covered in scaffolding during the height of the summer tourist season, The Breakers will remain open to the public, and we believe our visitors will understand and appreciate the value of the project,” adds Coxe.
The Breakers restoration project is just one of thousands facing the Preservation Society over the next 30 years at its historic properties. A recent engineering study has projected the cost of that work at more than $100 million. More than half the funding for preservation and restoration work is provided by visitors through ticket and merchandise purchases.
The lead contractor on The Breakers project is Chapman Waterproofing of Boston. Fundraising is ongoing, with partial funding provided by the Aletta Morris McBean Charitable Trust and the Champlin Foundations.
The Preservation Society of Newport County is a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to preserving and interpreting the area’s historic architecture, landscape and decorative arts. Five of its properties are National Historic Landmarks.
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