2015-12-03 / Opinion

‘The Waves’ Under Siege


To the Editor:

Imagine yourself walking toward the West Building of the National Gallery of Art with its imposing columns and steps or to the circular, open-pillar dome structure, named the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, with the Washington Monument in the background. John Russell Pope, the world famous architect, used the same magnificent sense of space and perspective in 1927 when he designed his own “cottage” in Newport, much as he did when he designed these other structures. He built his home on the burned ruins of another famous building, called “The Breakwater,” rich in history and known to the public as Lippitt’s Castle, which housed a former governor of the state. This new structure later became known as “The Waves.”

What adds to the majesty of The Waves is its beautiful setting. Located at Land’s End and across Ledge Road from the “cottage” once owned by Edith Wharton, the great American writer, this halftimbered and stone building is set on a magnificently landscaped south-facing rocky promontory with nothing between it and the vast Atlantic Ocean. Part of the genius behind Pope’s architectural design was in its visibility from several completely different perspectives.

Rounding a corner on Ocean Drive on bike or by car across from High Tide estate, you likely will gasp in awe at the sight of the lone building on the point of land off in the distance.

If you stroll along Bailey’s Beach and the contiguous public beach, you can’t help being struck by the sight of the building, which adds to the magical beauty of the entire setting.

But of all these different perspectives of The Waves, the most dramatic one for its owners and visitors is when you enter the driveway off Ledge Road and go up the slight hill. From initially only being able to see the road and adjoining lawn, you suddenly espy a majestic view:

The Waves surrounded on either side by a wavy ocean against the all-embracing sky, one of the most dramatic and precious sights in Newport.

No wonder, then, that this building along with its setting have been a source of artistic and poetic inspiration for countless individuals over the past century. Its structure and layout served as the residence of the diabolical Darryl Van Horne in the 2009 TV series, "Eastwick," based on John Updike’s best selling novel, "The Witches of Eastwick." The Waves was a backdrop for Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra when they flirted in the movie, "High Society." It also has served as a poster child for the State of Rhode Island in several of its publications.

Now the entire legacy of this historic and iconic building may well be destroyed!

Recently, the three lots adjoining The Waves were purchased from the estate of the late Sen. and Mrs. Pell. The purchaser is now before the Historic District Commission and is requesting permission to construct a sprawling, gargantuan, single-family, two-story home along with a four-car garage, swimming pool and large twostory pool house, all comprising a footprint of 13,800 square foot on a limited parcel of land. Unfortunately, the magnitude of this proposed “McMansion” will almost completely prevent Newport residents, tourists and visitors around the world from experiencing the spectacular views of this building and grounds they have enjoyed for nearly a century. The new building will entirely block out the sight of The Waves with the Atlantic Ocean on each side soon after they enter its driveway. Its mammoth size also will compromise the stunning sight of The Waves from the hill on Ocean Drive or on Bailey’s Beach and the adjacent public beach. On Dec. 10 the Newport Historic District Commission will be holding a special meeting to weigh the desires of the new owner versus the rights of the populace as a whole to preserve a national treasure. Those in opposition to this new development are asking the commission to protect this iconic Newport asset along with its fascinating history for all to enjoy.

The proposed development is simply not compatible with the inscribed tasks of the Commission to make certain that new construction does not adversely impact existing historical buildings and settings with respect to size, scale, sighting, massiveness and appearance. History and beauty must prevail for all.

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