2015-08-06 / Opinion

A Visitor's Perspective

To the Editor:

As an English woman who delights in returning to Newport, I read the letters about the developments at Rosecliff with interest. Last August I was thrilled to attend a ball at Rosecliff, but was also disappointed that it had so little “magic” or romance. It was just a “corporate” event with too many people. I do understand just how important it is to continue to use the house as it was originally intended, as a place to party and create a sense of the imagination. I also recognize that the Society needs some money-making events to supplement daily visitor income and donations. Clearly Rosecliff is the most obvious of the houses for this purpose within the Preservation Society properties. So for me the question is how to present and preserve while protecting this Petit Trianon. It does not seem to be in balance at the moment.

As a lifelong member of the National Trust in the U.K., I have seen many of their chosen options to keep the houses vibrant and attractive to visitors while protecting the fabric and spirit of the houses. Each property requires a different nuance of approach, and Rosecliff is well suited to hosting events - but my grouse is that it is losing its specialness, as it is being overused and under presented. Today I decided to see Rosecliff again as a consequence of the correspondence in the paper and newsletters from the Preservation Society. Indeed, Rosecliff is being “gutted” of spirit as well as of furniture. I was “gutted” this morning to be so underwhelmed by my sense of delight in the house. The guides know an enormous amount and clearly love the property, but the one that led our tour did not transfer a sense of intimacy, selective storytelling or wit – this would help make the house breathe again.

The majority of visitors to Newport want to see the Gilded Age in all of its glory or indeed in its dying phase when the last generation of inhabitants such as the Monroes put their all into finding furniture and restoration of the great houses before they so generously handed them over for public enjoyment. I would like a much greater sense of bustle, music, smell and liveliness about the house in the summer instead of the mausoleum that is now Rosecliff. Now the daily visitor is very much at the bottom of the hierarchy. It feels that everything is for the corporates and big events as the rooms are nearly empty, but pretty, boxes.

Today I was not able to go upstairs due to the work for the new space – and now I fear I will never see what I came for, which is the life upstairs contrasting with the glamour of downstairs and of course the Monroe furniture in its rightful place. As a visitor to Newport, I really do not want clever exhibitions in these houses (the Redwood and Art Museum can do that well). I want a full-on “Gilded Age experience” rich in rustling dresses, gossip, music, and lots of envy for past extravagance.

Please find a way to give me what I came for by preserving, protecting and presenting in a way that meets my expectations of this extraordinary town.

Please bring life, humor and a little more noise back to the Gatsby House. Then you would be fulfilling your three main aims.

Fiona Peel
Cardiff, Wales

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