Newport This Week

Anchors Away: Group to Relocate Parts of Vanderbilt Memorial

The third phase would include shifting the entire piece forward about six feet. (Photo by Philip Cozzolino)

The third phase would include shifting the entire piece forward about six feet. (Photo by Philip Cozzolino)

The committee working to restore the monument to Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt on Broadway is hoping to relocate some pieces of the installation.

Members of the committee recently met with Newport’s Waterfront and Tree and Open Space commissions regarding relocating two, mid-19th century anchors that are near the monument.

“We don’t know how the anchors got there,” Federico Santi said. “We’ve run into a dead end.”

The monument and cast-iron anchors sit in a small park across from Equality Park on Broadway. It is believed the city relocated the anchors from the harbor at the turn of the century. The issue is being studied by the commission, with assistance from a Salve Regina University researcher.

The group hopes to receive input and guidance from the various commissions and the public about the relocation of the anchors. Though nothing has been decided, it is believed the anchors should be returned to the harbor.

Commission members feel the restoration effort would provide more public access to the statue and increase awareness around Vanderbilt and the city’s storied and artistic culture. The final goal is a properly restored monument, Santi said. Vanderbilt died aboard the British ocean liner, the RMS Lusitania, on May 7, 1915, after a German U-boat fired on the vessel 11 miles off the coast of southern Ireland.

“We want to try to recreate the concept of a circle using plantings and stonework and things like that,” Santi said. “We’re still in the process of trying to raise money, and it’s a slow process.”

The commission has approached two foundations, to no avail so far, although members remain optimistic. A fundraising campaign is slated to kick off in January.

The memorial was designed by artist Eugene Morahan and placed on Broadway following Vanderbilt’s death. The original work depicted an athletic youth reigning in two fervent thoroughbred horses in bronze sculpture upon a cylindrical pedestal, leading to a large, horse trough attached to an octagonal, rose granite base.

With horse and carriage a common means of transportation at the time, the monument functioned as a working horse trough for those travelling up and down the Newport street, and as a memorial, as the Newport magnate was an avid sportsman. A plaque on the piece bears a dedication to Vanderbilt’s memory still seen today.

In the mid-20th century, the memorial was moved off Broadway to the small park behind it because it was considered a hazard for cars parking. During the process, the holes where water was pumped to the trough were filled and the base was replaced with concrete, with the original pieces being sold off by the city. About 20 years ago, the sculpture of the determined boy atop one of the horses was stolen, and the statue now sits in disrepair.

“It has to be redesigned and recast, and it’s expensive,” Santi said.

The privately funded monument restoration is proposed in three phases, the first being the redesign and restoration of the statue of the eager youth atop the memorial. The second phase is restoration of the stonework, a process that includes procuring missing pieces, repairing the trough, replacing missing bronze elements and polishing the fixture.

“When we have it removed by whoever’s going to do the work, it will call a lot more attention to the project, because people will think somebody stole it,” Santi said.

“It’s sad to see it in its current condition,” said Paul Szapary, the great nephew of Vanderbilt and a member of the committee. “If you’ve seen photographs of it when it was new, it was quite elaborate and a very, very attractive statue. It’s unfortunate that the rider has been ripped off, and I think the base needs some work. It’s just too bad. I think it’s a wonderful asset to Newport. If it can be repaired, I think a lot of people would like to see it and it could be an attraction.”

The third phase would include shifting the entire piece forward about six feet to eliminate the concrete walkway where the monument currently sits.

“The city has agreed to take that away,” Santi said.

Once restored, the memorial would be rounded out with further landscaping and flourishes for aesthetic purposes, said Santi.

“We have plans for very nice, new surroundings,” he said.

The committee proposing the project consists of Santi; Szapary and his wife, Diana; Paul Miller, curator emeritus of the Preservation Society of Newport County; Linda Gordon, an English professor with experience in historic monument relocation and restoration and Harle Tinney, whose family purchased the sculpture’s original granite base and corbel.

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