Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category
April 11th, 2009 by billfarrell
Sat, 11 Apr 2009 23:19:10
Associated Press Writer
Friday, April 10, 2009
NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) — Helen Bjurberg’s elderly voice greets visitors as she recalls her summers in the 1920s at The Breakers mansion, the opulent oceanside retreat for the wealthy Vanderbilt family. But as a servant’s child, she wasn’t coddled like guests.
Her quarters were hot and cramped. Springs punctured her bedding and poked her in the side. She could touch nothing, or else. She precociously stole glimpses of millionaires and glamorous lawn parties she and her mother, a cook at the house, would never attend.
The stories of the estate’s haves and the have-nots are being shared for the first time in a new audio tour intended to make Newport’s most glamorous and popular Gilded Age mansion more historically accurate and relevant.
"Museums in general have been trying very hard to connect themselves to people," said Trudy Coxe, CEO of the Preservation Society of Newport County, the nonprofit that operates The Breakers. "If you can’t be relevant, then I’m not sure what we’re in this business for."
The new working-man focus could resonate with visitors during a recession that makes the eye-popping Vanderbilt fortune seem all the more out of reach.
"It really connected you to the time and to the house to have someone who actually experienced it," said Bill Stuart, a Boston transit inspector who took the tour earlier this month.
He views the house as a relic of a bygone era. Today, he said, "No one could have this kind of resources and financial clout to build a place like this."
The Breakers, modeled after an Italian Renaissance palace, was completed in 1895 for the railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt II. The 70-room house draws more than 300,000 visitors a year, and the city’s mansions — built when Newport was a summer hangout for wealthy industrialists — collectively rank among New England’s most popular destinations.
The tour draws on new research and interviews recorded in the last decade with Vanderbilt family members who lived there and some of the 40 cooks, chauffeurs and coachmen who served them. Visitor surveys showed a desire for more information about the mansion’s residents.
The new tour still notes The Breakers’ decadent, even garish, flourishes: the towering red-carpeted staircase in the Great Hall, the sparkling twin chandeliers and crystal wall sconces in the dining room and the open-air oceanfront terrace.
But it also opens previously closed sections of the house, exposing a warren of cramped corridors and storage space used by the servants to contrast the grand features.
Visitors are directed to a stained-glass skylight and 17th-century tapestry depicting the life of Alexander the Great, then turn to face a drab wooden staircase for staff.
"You’re going to constantly see a contrast between grand space and then functional serving space, and we purposefully walk people through the spaces that way," said John Tschirch, an architectural historian and director of academic programs for the Preservation Society who designed the new tour.
To create the tour, researchers funded by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant sifted through archives, photographs and documents. They also tracked down senior citizens who as children or young adults lived or labored in the house.
Snippets of their interviews are played throughout the tour. The recollections are often bittersweet.
Mary Seliga, the daughter of a staff worker, fondly recalls dreaming of being a "fairy princess" after peeking at "handsome young men" and stylish women in elegant ballroom gowns.
Rudolph Stanish, a domestic servant who became a professional chef known for his omelets, admits he used to contemplate dumping his 15-pound food trays on the laps of the women he served as they kept him waiting while they finished their conversations. But he also credits the house as a "stepping stone" to professional success for him and other servants.
Mansion officials hope the new tour will foster discussion among visitors.
"The Breakers does trigger a lot of interesting conversations about what it means to be American, what it means to be wealthy, what it means to have a home," Tschirch said.
April 8th, 2009 by billfarrell
Wed, 08 Apr 2009 12:04:17
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April 8th, 2009 by billfarrell
Wed, 08 Apr 2009 06:44:43
NEWPORT AND THE GILDED AGE
Story and Photography by Pat Mestern
Rhode Island was always a Mecca for wealthy Victorian Americans, Newport in particular being chosen as an ultimate summer retreat destination. From its roots as one of the three most important ports in Colonial America during the 1700′s, Newport grew to become the summer playground for several hundred families who possessed more than 80% of America’s wealth during the late Victorian period. Newport, known now as America’s First Resort, had its beginnings as one point in the 18th century port triangle. Sugar and molasses from the West Indies were turned into rum in Newport that was then used as "currency" for the slave trade.
Newport saw its demise as a major port after the British blockade of 1776, when most of the timber wharves were used for firewood during the particular harsh winter. They were never rebuilt and the village languished in near obscurity for a half century. This obscurity contributed to the fact that with little developmental progress, early architecture was kept intact. Today, Newport has one of the most architecturally significant and intact old towns on the Eastern seaboard. It boasts the largest percentage of eighteenth century buildings in New England. Most have been restored and present a beautiful time capsule for today’s visitors.
Beginning in the mid 1850′s wealthy families chose Newport and area as an ideal location for their summer cottages. As mansions and villas sprung up, each more elaborate than the previous, the perfect vacation setting was established for "The 400", an elite group of very wealthy individuals. Their presence, and all the events and activities that surrounded their being in residence, produced a unique and unforgettable time in Newport, known as The Gilded Age. Today, Newport’s streets are bustling with visitors. It is one of the premier tourist destinations on the East Coast. Those that are savvy about the area know that negotiating narrow, one way streets in old Newport can be a headache. It is wise to find accommodation that is within walking distance of all attractions. We stayed at The Cleveland House B & B, located several blocks from the harbor, shops, restaurants and a short walking distance from the mansions along Bellevue Avenue.
Speaking of accommodation, the first item on any visitor’s agenda should be to contact the local Convention & Visitor’s Bureau for area information. Because there are a large number of attractions in the Newport area, plan carefully so that you might see as much as possible in the time frame set for your visit. It is also most important that you make accommodation reservations in advance as a room can be hard to find during the height of the tourism season.
The Spring Seasons Inn (www.springseasonsinn.com) is in an ideal location. During our five-day visit, we only had to resort to driving the car twice, both times to attractions at a distance from the main area. Another alternative for visitors is to purchase an all-day pass to ride the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority trolley.
A gentle sound was the first thing that impressed us about Newport. Walking throughout the old town, we were constantly aware of the tinkling of wind chimes. Every street has their share. As there is always a breeze off the harbor, there is "fuel" for the motion bells. Far from annoying, they provided beautiful background music for one of the prettiest towns on the New England coast. They are appropriate for the seaport.
Newport is famous for its mansions and palatial summer homes. There are thirteen properties visitors can visit, some more popular than others. If time is at a premium, choose several from the list provided by the Visitors Bureau. Be prepared for a lineup at the grandest and most popular. Some "waits" are more than an hour. The best way to beat line-ups is to visit the most popular mansions early in the morning, just after the gates open.
Personal recommendations are Rosecliff, Chateau-Sur-Mer, Marble House, The Elms, The Breakers and Kingscote, not particularly in that order. Of this list, The Breakers is by far the most popular and opulent mansion, followed closely by Marble House. Our personal preference was The Elms that has a self-guided tour utilizing headphones and a recording unit. It was a pleasure to view the house at our leisure, stopping here and there to learn more about the mansion, and its operations, from our personal recorded guide.
The above-mentioned homes are owned by the Preservation Society of Newport County. There is one other mansion that I highly recommend, that being the privately owned Belcourt, one of the most unique and unusual mansions in the area. Belcourt is amazing for its collection of artifacts from thirty-two countries including China and England. Belcourt’s stained glass display is wonderful. The place is also reputed to have several resident ghosts.
Be prepared to pay admission to all properties. There are admission packages available for those owned by the Preservation Society of Newport County.
As it is impossible to remember all the details of these magnificent dwellings, it is a good idea to purchase an illustrated book about them. One of the best is Newport Mansions, The Gilded Age by Richard Cheek and Thomas Gannon.
Newport’s heritage envelops more than 360 years of sailing and sailing ships, so it’s appropriate that visitors can enjoy a sail out of the harbor on a number of schooners. We chose The Madeleine. The wind was up and sailing was excellent. What a way to spend an afternoon! If schooner sailing is not be in your blood, there are also motorized harbor cruises.
Browsing all the shops in Old Newport can take some time! Antiquing is great in the many shops on Spring Street and at the old Stone Armory on America’s Cup Drive. Eateries abound in the area and address all tastes and price ranges. We liked Crawley’s on Bellevue, Aidan’s Irish Pub & Grub behind Old Colony House and Sardella’s Italian Restaurant on Memorial Blvd. W. Ask Sardella’s about their two-for-one specials on slow nights! For great seafood try Johnny’s Seafood Restaurant on Newport Beach.
One of the most interesting attractions for visitors is not a mansion but a church. St. Mary’s Church in the heart of Newport was begun in 1848 and dedicated in 1852. It is known throughout the U.S.A. as the church where Jacqueline Bouvier married John Kennedy in 1953.
If hiking is something you enjoy, you are in for a treat. Cliff Walk, an ambitious three-mile hike, can be accessed from Newport Beach, the forty steps at the end of Narragansett Avenue or the end of Bellevue Avenue. Watch for signs. The last one and a half miles cover rough terrain so be careful. The End of Cliff Walk affords a gorgeous view of Rhode Island Sound.
You will have to drive your car to enjoy the panoramic views Ocean Avenue provides of the Sound. The road also winds past some of the most expensive real estate in North America. There are public parking areas for those who enjoy an ocean view. Mind the private property signs! For swimming try sandy Newport Beach, the place to be seen-and to see!
April 7th, 2009 by billfarrell
Tue, 07 Apr 2009 10:00:46
NEWPORT, R.I. – The Breakers in Newport is an opulent, oceanside mansion completed in 1895 as a summer "cottage" for the wealthy Vanderbilt family. Less than 15 minutes away, and across a bridge into nearby Bristol, stands the 45-room Blithewold mansion and its verdant 33-acre garden estate of trees, shrubs and lawns.
Both buildings are relics of America’s Gilded Age and monuments to unfettered wealth. Now, tourism officials want to make sure visitors to one site are also checking out the other.
Newport and its neighboring communities are creating a trail of historic attractions, linking up notable sites with color-coded maps and eventually road signs to make it easier for tourists to move from museum to mansion to Colonial-era farm. The goal of the initiative, known as the Newport Bristol Heritage Passage, is not to draw more tourists but to encourage those who already come to extend their stays by steering them to attractions they may not have thought to visit.
"We’re going after the quality visitor, and the quality visitor has a particular interest in heritage tourism attractions and events," said Keith Stokes, executive director of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, which is spearheading the trail.
The project’s intent is similar to Boston’s Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile red-brick walking trail linking historic sites. But this trail will be accessed more by drivers given the broad swath of land it covers, bookended by Newport and Bristol and winding through the lesser-known towns of Portsmouth, Jamestown, Middletown, Tiverton and Little Compton.
The corridor is already laid out, with more than 80 mansions, museums, gardens, farms and burial grounds highlighted on maps, marked on a Web site and grouped into seven categories such as maritime heritage, religious freedom and tolerance, Gilded Age and museums.
Once the project is completed, Stokes said, highway and road signs will alert drivers that they’ve entered the Newport Bristol Heritage Passage. Signs within the communities, bearing an iconic logo or symbol, will give visitors information about reaching historic sites and attractions along the corridor and will also provide general information about things like public parking and nearby restrooms, he said.
"It helps to communicate that there’s more to see, that this is one part of a greater whole," said Andrew Barresi, a principal of Roll-Barresi & Associates, a Cambridge, Mass.-based design firm hired for the project. "If there was no signage or no indication that it’s part of the heritage trail, it’s a one-stop experience, so to speak."
Organizers have received roughly $65,000 in state grants and private money in the last three and a half years, which has been used to hire marketing consultants, planners and designers, among other experts, Stokes said. He said he expected that the signs and information kiosks would be phased in over several years.
The trail encompasses Newport’s signature attractions, including its late-19th century mansions, the nation’s oldest synagogue, the International Tennis Hall of Fame and Fort Adams, a centuries-old coastal fort active through World War II that today is the venue for the city’s heralded jazz and folk festivals.
It also encompasses lesser-known sites including the Colonial-era Mount Hope Farm in Bristol and the Herreshoff Marine Museum, which hosts the America’s Cup Hall of Fame.
Some visitors seemed intrigued by the idea of branching out beyond the best-known attractions.
"I love to learn new things, and I would find something unique about each place," said Christina Villa, 40, a consultant from Los Angeles making her first visit to Newport.
The idea is that tourists interested in the Gilded Age will visit not only Newport’s storied mansions but also Linden Place, the 1810 Bristol mansion featured in the film "The Great Gatsby" and onetime home of the actress Ethel Barrymore. Or that people interested in America’s religious history will visit not just the Touro Synagogue but also a 1699 Quaker meeting house in Newport that is Rhode Island’s oldest house of worship.
The project is part of a broader aggressive effort to get tourists to spend more time and money in Newport, which already draws more than 3 million visitors a year and accounts for one of the Ocean State’s most reliable industries.
Marketing materials for the project beckon visitors to "Discover Your American Heritage," then asks, "Did you know that in the Newport Bristol Heritage Passage, you’ll find the greatest concentration of America’s heritage sites?"
An ambitious claim, perhaps, but Stokes makes no apologies.
"I have no problem challenging and debating Boston and Philadelphia on who’s the most historic community," Stokes said.
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.