2014-01-10 / Opinion

HDC Needs to Reconsider Stance

To the Editor:

As someone who actually works at The Breakers I want to explain why the Preservation Society's plans for the welcome center are important.

I have watched the changes in The Breakers operation for more than 13 years. Gone are the lines which stretched from the ticket booth to the front door. Now digital ticketing moves visitors quickly into The Breakers. Well-planned distribution of audio tour players speeds people through the front door. The audio tours now allow people to choose their language – English, French, Spanish, German and soon Mandarin. Once inside, each visitor chooses their own speed to tour the house. Children can hear a custom "family tour" right alongside their parents' program.

The use of technology has improved every facet of the visit to The Breakers, except the way we introduce visitors to the Newport mansions. The new welcome center cures that with modern, easily used and read digital information centers for guests to explore before they buy tickets. Also, older, disabled, and younger visitors would have ADA compliant restrooms and a true cool spot health zone for those 94 degree days when younger and older visitors feel the stress of heat.

It is a beautiful high technology building like the major museums in Europe and the U.S. have, except it is much more compact.

Right now, the old white ticket booth is out in plain sight on the grounds; it has no reference to any other building on the property. It is right on the driveway, visible from the street and the front door of The Breakers. There is also a drink vending shed right next to it and the porta-potties. The new design takes all these structures and hides them from the street and from any part of the house and driveway, behind historic trees and a rehabilitated landscape.

What I don't understand is why the Historic District Commission decided against the design since not one architect testified against it. How can four members of the HDC just make up something that no one testified to during the hearings? How can the HDC adopt a decision that was written two weeks before the hearings?

If people like Mayor Sardella and Mayor Waluk and the State Historic Preservation Commission and all the residents, business people and architects who testified for this at the HDC are for it, why does it seem like nobody is listening?

The HDC would not even read the state review. I think a big mistake was made and I think it ought to be corrected. Debbie Kammerer

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