Newport Mansions exterior shots

Trip 1, May 2008
  [Adapted from an earlier webpage]

A small detachment of us headed to Newport RI, to go tour the Mansions [or what their original owners referred to as "summer cottages", heh] and see the area. It was a totally *perfect* day for taking a road-trip and walking around outside. As a destination we picked the Elms as one of the larger places and where to park; the lot was nearing full as we arrived but we found a spot pretty easily. Parking is for the most part free. When the lots on the mansion properties overflow, people just stack 'em up on the side streets.

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Right when walking up from the car I spotted this on the roof of the Elms, stark against the stunningly crystalline-blue sky. It may have inspired creation of the internet's first lolstatuary.

[WTF is that? Go here to find out.]

Embellishment over one of the front doors at Elms.

The service entrance at Elms -- a little loop of driveway off the side of the house, covered with an iron trellis and a tangle of wisteria. The idea was that the residents of the house wouldn't have to see tradesmen and deliveries arriving from the windows, because they're presumably lower forms of life meant only to serve and the well-bred do not acknowledge their existence.

One mildly depressing aspect of the tours is the perpetual disparity between rich and poor, and how high-society types often live [then and now] in a little fantasy world whose underlying infrastructure is supplied by magic. I guess when your primary social imperative is changing outfits about six times a day, there's no time left to think about things like, say, plumbing.

Actually, that's not entirely true. Some of the gilded-age Newporters were quite into designing and redesigning these houses in various ways, from the interior decor to major structural changes. And keeping up with the Joneses and the Vanderbilts down the way, of course.

Closer shot of the wisteria [and the definitely non-original flex conduit]. We couldn't detect anything from underneath, but later when we were on a terrace above here the smell was amazing. It apparently drifts upward.

Back side of Elms, very common canonical shot.

On the expansive lawn behind Elms, there's a huge stand of weeping beech. It forms a very spacious, shadey "fort" underneath which is great to hang out inside.

One of many interesting tree details spotted along our walk to the next location. I think it's some other variety of beech; these are its flowers. They were everywhere.

Newport is full of huge old trees of various kinds, not just on the mansion properties, all apparently very well taken care of. It's worth the trip just to go walk around and see some of those, especially in the spring.

Chateau-sur-Mer, our next stop, hidden behind a stand of very very VERY pink growth out front. The camera doesn't do the depth of color any justice at all. [Azaleas? These are really big bushes, if so..]

Along the side of the Chateau property is this little "moon gate", said to keep evil spirits off the premises. It's also designed to be walked over easily. This was the only real evidence of superstitious architecture we spotted, but there may have been deeper implications in a lot of the other details that I missed.

Looking down from the top of the moon-gate, with the iron rods both holding it together and forming rudimentary safety rails as you walk over it.

Speaking of ironwork... this is the front gate of the Breakers, which would have been our next stop except that there was a huge line out front. Having just burned quite a bit of time with the guided tour of Chateau, we realized that waiting for this would be a waste of our limited time and we moved on.

This was the height of the day, pretty much, and things had gotten quite a bit busier. A day like this on a spring weekend, no surprise. We caught Breakers later on the second trip; see below.

Our stroll took us past many interesting sights along the way, including some nice classic buildings which are evidently part of a local college.

And more odd trees. This one was particularly gnarly along most of its branches -- no idea why, but this one would be really scary at night.

They rent these cute little 3-wheel things, powered by scooter engines, and they're everywhere around town mixing it up with the monster SUVs. At least these two were wearing helmets; they are optional in RI and people were taking their dogs in these things, tooling down the main drag holding out a handycam, or whatever.

Fortunately, there's absolutely no reason to hurry anywhere in this place, so the overall pace of traffic is pretty slow. That's a nice reflection of the time in the mansions' heyday, when it was fashionable to tool up and down Bellevue Avenue in expensive conveyances and "be seen".

Next stop, Marble House. This isn't it, this is the pagoda out back where nowadays they have wedding ceremonies and the like. It's at one corner of a large gorgeous lawn overlooking the bay.

Detail of the pagoda roof. I always wondered what a construction nightmare those curved corners must be. Keeping them rainproof clearly involves a bit of kludgery with flashing.

Off the end of the lawns along this stretch runs the so-named Cliff Walk, which goes along quite a bit of the shoreline and is fairly heavily fenced off from the properties.

Here you can see it snaking along behind several more houses ...

... and that's pretty far away. [Same shot, zoomed out]

At this point we hadn't eaten in quite a while, it was getting later in the day, we had just done the "self-guided audio tour" of the whole inside of Marble House, and folks were running out of steam. But it was just nice to loll around on the lawn behind Marble House, so here's an insects-eye view of it.
Elms and Marble are the two places [three, with the more recent addition of Breakers] where they basically hand you what's basically a little MP3 player and you command your way through recorded tracks that describe the rooms along the way. There wasn't time to listen to all the ancillary recordings about specific features, but the whole presentation seems quite well-done with good, clear voices and cute little sound effects behind the narrative. I suggested to a couple of the staff that they should put the recordings up on the net, so people can pre-listen to all the history and then go tour the actual places.

[They seem to disagree, thinking that the more info is available on the net the less people will be inclined to come visit. This is likely a bit of stodginess on their part, where a few bits of well-placed detail could very likely pique the interest of even more visitors.]

But it's easy to ignore the side-comment tracks and just wail through the main line of the tour fairly quickly, if that's what you want, which can get you through a place much faster than a guided tour would. Most of the other houses are human-guided, which would take much longer since you have to wait for the next group to assemble and then they must tell you *every* little detail, so plan accordingly.

The slight downside of the audio widgets is that everyone is lost in their own tiny little world in between the headphones, which makes it harder to chat with each other. Maybe that's a good thing...

The lawn was nice, but we needed to move on and started wandering toward the exit from Marble House, catching a couple more shots along the way. The detail on all the mansions' exteriors is astoundingly extensive, and must have required whole crews of designers just to figure out the gingerbreading let alone the infrastructure it's all part of.

Weird tree roots near the Marble House front entrance; of course all meticulously manicured along with the rest of the landscaping. Up above can be seen a typical arrangement of chains or cables to hold up the spreading lower branches, that otherwise grow so heavy that they would break off from their own weight.

We were out of time to actually *tour* Rosecliff, but we stopped in and took a stroll around the exterior.

Back lawn of Rosecliff, another elegant spread of green that in this case ends in a wall rather than just dropping off.

These two [near center in previous picture] were going nuts with the camera; they must have squeezed off over a dozen of each other sitting on the wall in the brief time a couple of us were leaning over it looking at the bay. What ever happens to the terabytes of badly-shot image data that must walk out of this town every day?? Some may show up on Myspace or something, blech. At least I go through my stuff and pick the best ones, and then try to do subtle little enhancements to it when needed. And today I was actually trying to keep the snap-o-mania down to a dull roar.

They were apparently setting up for an evening event in the back of Rosecliff; an activity punctuated by the clanking of an awful lot of beer bottles. I guess they were about eight hours away from lots of people hanging over the sea-cliff wall for different reasons than we were.

A strange shed off the side of Rosecliff, with a bunch of what seemed to be primer-painted furniture and interior construction elements. Maybe this stuff is for events like the big flower shows?

At this point we had a longish hike back to Elms and the car, but there were still plenty of little details along the way to look at.

So our score for the day was sort of three and a half houses on the "five house" tour ticket we'd bought, leaving two chits remaining per person that can be used any other time.

They had already shut the front gates of Elms, so we had to walk along the property edge on a side street toward the back entrance into the parking lot. This placed us at the back of its lawn again, where we noticed a fountain we hadn't seen before.

All the cameras whipped out for this one; she's really streaming water out her nipples and he looks like he's perpetually ralfing into the pool. Those old gods musta had a helluva good time. Maybe this is another subtle good-luck charm for the super-wealthy set of the times.

The fountain is at one end of another serene aisle of the Elms lawn, looking a bit different in the late-day light now.

The same aisle from the other end, with the other fountain and a different exuberance of naked cavorting.

[from second trip]

Bench detail.

[from second trip]

Ironwork in the wall near Elms carriage-house, from the bordering street.

[from second trip]

Traffic getting through Newport center and out toward home was a very slow crawl since everyone else was leaving around the same time too, but fairly polite with people letting each other in off side streets and again, no hurry to get anywhere. Our only downside was that we were *really* hungry by now, and trying to figure out where to get food. We wandered down a couple of back streets [which are very narrow and cute in that typical New England coastal-town way], but it was clear that there was little or no parking to be had. We wound up heading a short way out of Newport proper and found a little local burger-n-icecream joint on 138 called Newport Creamery.

So, we learned a few things on this trip which can likely help make future visits go more smoothly:

  • Arrive early, especially on popular weekends, not only for favorable parking but to have time to see everything you want to see in a relaxed fashion.
  • There are few places to get food in the immediate vicinity of the mansions, not that we could find, anyhow. Actually, there's now a newer minimall a couple of blocks north of Elms that has another Newport Creamery branch.
  • Traffic moves slowly through the area -- not a problem, but may bother some.
  • Guided tours are likely to take a while and possibly be somewhat excruciating in terms of all the stuff the guides want to relate. Hanging back from the tour group a bit may provide more opportunity to really examine things.
  • The town/area itself is very pretty.
There's also a state park out on the end of the spit of land that we didn't visit, but may be worth a look as well.

Trip 2, Sep 2009

On a more off-season run, the highly popular Breakers property was not nearly as overrun with tourists and we finally got to go really see it. Not quite as many exterior pictures this time, but here are a few.

The south end of the house, with the half-rotunda housing the Music Room and Mrs. Vanderbilt's bedroom upstairs. This is a very commonly taken shot of the place, as the ring of wooden arbor supports is rather intriguing.

And this is just one *end* of the house...

Breakers is "beachfront property"; the back of the house looks out over high cliffs to a wide ocean vista. The Cliff Walk passes below.

Interestingly bricked ceiling under the outermost arches in the previous picture.

This shows the wide variety of embellishment styles used just in one section of the rear wall of the house. I'm especially amused by the "limestone Legos".

Funny little sundial stand in the side garden. No longer a sundial, with the vertical vane missing [not to mention being shaded for much of the day].

Kind of an odd place for this, surrounded by pachysandra, but there it is. A circus animal theme? Not sure.

Bronze light posts out front. The modern-day light bulbs look fairly ridiculous in this, and now that I think about it spiral-bulb fluorescents would probably look *better* in a slightly more ornate way. Not that anything about the place makes the slightest nod toward energy efficiency, of course.

The massive old trees get so heavy they're possibly more vulnerable to wind damage than younger ones; this has messed up a good chunk of the back lawn.

_H* 080529, 091113