NEWPORT, R.I. (WJAR) — The much anticipated, at times controversial, Breakers Mansion Welcome Center officially opened Thursday night.
There was a big party for the ribbon cutting and annual gathering of the Preservation Society of Newport County for the occasion.
Dignitaries and members, along with Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, made up the invitation-only crowd.
The Welcome Center is tucked just inside the gates to the mansion on the left.
Nearly a half million guests pay a visit every year to The Breakers, the so-called, "Summer Cottage," built by the Vanderbilts in 1895.
"Cornelius Vanderbilt started the railroads across this country, and connecting Chicago with New York, really changed the landscape of this nation," said Trudy Coxe, of the Preservation Society of Newport. "So, the story behind the family that built this house is a very important part of our American history."
The need for the new $5.5 million, 3700-odd square foot, one story facility, with interactive touch screens, a cafe for coffee or tea, and bathroom facilities, was first talked about in 2000.
"Port-O-Johns had been the toilets that were used. We sold our tickets out of a tent. When it was hot out, it became dusty. If there was a storm, we had to close down the computers. It was not a system that worked well," said Coxe, explaining the necessity for the Welcome Center.
The new Welcome Center is virtually hidden behind landscaping, behind the front gate, so as not to detract from the big historic main Breakers itself.
"Behind the caretaker's cottage was always a work space," said Coxe. "It was where the laundry was hung, and everything else. So, this was not the luxurious part of the property, which is why the Board selected this site as the most ideal."
The Preservation Society prevailed in five court cases to get the structure built on the property and broke ground a year ago.
"I don't think most architects agree when they get hired to do everything they can to hide a building," said Coxe, who said she is overjoyed with the work of all the designers and contractors on the project.
The Welcome Center was paid for by private donors.