Frequently Asked Questions
What is the purpose of The Breakers welcome center?
The welcome center will create an
appropriate, positive first experience for the hundreds of thousands of
people who visit The Breakers annually from all over the world. Almost
400,000 people visited The Breakers in 2012. The welcome center will be a
place for them to learn about the Newport Mansions and other
attractions in Newport, plan their day’s activities, and purchase
tickets or memberships. Visitors can also relax for a few minutes and
enjoy light refreshments, and use clean and accessible restrooms.
Why is this building needed?
In 2001, the Preservation Society erected
a canvas tent with multiple sales stations and displays to test the
idea that the ticket booth near the gates no longer served the needs of
its visitors. The booth does not allow visitors to understand all that
the Newport Mansions – and all of Newport – have to offer. In the year
2000, a study found that:
1) fewer than 25% of visitors saw more than one mansion, and
2) there were no restroom facilities, and no opportunity for visitors to
rest and refresh before or after their visit to The Breakers.
The canvas tent has been an unparalleled
success. It has enabled us to effectively explain all of our offerings
to visitors, including memberships as well as ticketing, which has
generated an astonishing annual revenue increase of $1.5 million. More
than 75% of visitors now see more than one property. The addition of a
small toilet trailer near the tent was also appreciated by visitors.
But the canvas tent and toilet trailer
are a poor introduction to a National Historic Landmark. The tent is
assembled in early spring each year and remains in place until it
becomes too chilly for employees to work in, when it is disassembled and
stored. Ticketing operations for the winter season then move back to
the ticket booth.
The tent is extremely susceptible to the weather. Heat, humidity and
airborne dust have a detrimental effect on the sensitive electronic
equipment used in ticketing operations and make for an uncomfortable
environment for staff and visitors alike. The toilet trailer is not
accessible to visitors with disabilities, who must use restrooms in the
basement of The Breakers.
If the ticketing tent has been so successful since 2001, why hasn’t a permanent welcome center been built before now?
The Preservation Society’s Board and
staff have studied the siting, design, and cost of a permanent welcome
center for over a decade. Each of these elements has been carefully and
thoroughly analyzed, to ensure that the resulting permanent welcome
center is appropriate to The Breakers.
Where will the welcome center be located?
The Board and staff considered many
locations, including the Bellevue Gardens Shopping Center. But The
Breakers itself is the destination for many of the almost 400,000
visitors each year, and redirecting these people to another location for
orientation and ticket purchase would be a difficult task. Even if
successful, it would significantly increase traffic in Newport. So
placing the welcome center at The Breakers, these visitors’ ultimate
destination, is the most logical choice.
The Breakers parking lot, including the small house on the west end of
the parking lot, were carefully studied options. Many different
configurations in the parking lot were considered, including a
multiple-level garage, both above- and below-ground.
Construction of the welcome center in The Breakers parking lot would
mean a substantial loss in much-needed parking spaces, particularly
during the summer. Cars that cannot park in the lot will choose to park
elsewhere in the neighborhood. A welcome center in the parking lot
would also displace visitor reception activities that now take place in
the seasonal tent to a much more visible location. In addition, one of
the most significant views of The Breakers is the one afforded through
the entrance gates on Ochre Point Avenue. Locating the proposed welcome
center in the parking lot would severely obstruct this historic
The small house at the west end of the parking lot was determined to be
too small for 400,000 visitors a year, and in the wrong direction from
the parking lot. The house and land were later sold to Salve Regina
University. The Preservation Society maintains an easement that allows
for automobile parking on a portion of the land sold to the University.
If the welcome center is to be on the grounds of The Breakers, where should it be?
Many different locations were considered,
including the basement of The Breakers itself (below grade; not large
enough; would cause irreparable damage to the historic finishes and
structure itself; fire code issues); the southwest quadrant of the
property (visible from The Breakers; access to utilities would be very
difficult); near the north gate (too far from where people enter the
property from the parking lot), to the south of the main drive (highly
visible from the main house), and the location of the current tent.
Some have suggested that the original underground boiler room located
near the Caretaker's Cottage be used for the welcome center. To use this
space, which is over 100 years old, extensive structural and
waterproofing improvements would have to be made, requiring excavation
all around the perimeter 25 feet deep and ten feet wide. Restoration
work to correct structural deficiencies would also have to be
undertaken. Even after all this work, the boiler room would provide
about 750 square feet of usable space, roughly half of the 1,500 square
feet of the existing ticketing tent. After the construction of
elevators, escalators, emergency exits, fire suppression systems and
other requirements, occupancy of this underground space would be
extremely limited, defeating its purpose. In addition, we have longer
term plans to incorporate the boiler room into a special
Others have suggested using the
Caretaker’s Cottage. The cottage is primarily a façade to disguise the
large chimney for the boiler room. The cottage is very small inside and
would be completely inadequate for 400,000 visitors a year. While a ramp
for wheelchair accessibility could be added, it would change the
exterior character of this historic building, which is right at the
entrance to The Breakers property. (The cottage will be used for some
office functions, which reduces the size of the welcome center.)
After reviewing all options, the Board decided that the best location
for the welcome center is in the general area where the ticketing tent
is located, behind the Caretaker’s Cottage.
If you place the welcome center at The Breakers, won’t you increase traffic in the area?
The welcome center is not intended to
draw more visitors to The Breakers, but to serve the ones who come there
already. Visitors whose primary destination is another Preservation
Society property don’t visit The Breakers. A parking study determined
that the construction of a permanent welcome center will not have an
adverse impact on parking at The Breakers.
Have you been working with an architect?
Yes, Epstein Joslin Architects of Cambridge, MA (www.epsteinjoslin.com) has been hired to design the welcome center. In addition, we have hired landscape architects Reed Hilderbrand (www.reedhilderbrand.com) and interior designer Experience Design (www.expdesign.com).
What public review is required for the welcome center project?
The Preservation Society will submit
appropriate applications to the City of Newport’s Planning Board,
Historic District Commission and Zoning Board.
How big will the welcome center be?
The Welcome Center will be approximately 3,750 square feet.
What visual impact will the welcome center have on the neighborhood?
The existing tent is almost invisible from outside the grounds of The
Breakers, and we have ensured that the welcome center will also be
nearly invisible from outside the grounds.
Will the welcome center have a restaurant?
No. Similar to the facilities that have existed at Marble House and The
Elms for many years, pre-packaged sandwiches, salads and other snacks
will be prepared off-site by a licensed local caterer and sold on-site
by the caterer’s staff and ours. Refreshments are available only to
Preservation Society members and ticket holders. Approximately 50 seats
are planned for the refreshment area.
Doesn’t offering refreshments take business away from local restaurants?
Since 2005, the Preservation Society has
paid over $1 million to local caterers to prepare and serve refreshments
to members and ticket purchasers at two of our properties. These local
caterers are very appreciative of the business we have brought them and
What impact will the welcome center have on the landscape of The Breakers?
The construction of the welcome center will require removal of two aging
beech trees immediately to the east of the current tent site. These two
trees are not key character-defining features of the landscape. In
conjunction with the creation of the welcome center, the historic path
around the perimeter of the property, which has fallen into disuse in
recent years, will be rehabilitated and enhanced.
Will a welcome center on the grounds of The Breakers be visible?
The welcome center will be nearly
invisible from most spots on the The Breakers property. Great care has
been taken in its design and siting to ensure that it will be screened.
Visitors enjoying refreshments in the servery will, however, have a
distant view of the ocean.
What other changes will be made once the welcome center is complete?
The wooden ticket booth and a wooden shed housing
a vending machine, both adjacent to The Breakers main driveway, will be
removed and replaced with proper greenery. For the first time in forty
years, visitors entering the grounds of The Breakers will see this
magnificent building unmarred by these unsightly and obsolete
How much will the welcome center cost, and how will the cost be funded?
The current cost is estimated at $4.2 million. The Preservation Society
has started a comprehensive capital campaign to raise funds for this and
several other critical needs.