Who was the last person to live at The Breakers?

Answered by Jason Smith

The Breakers, located in Newport, Rhode Island, is a monumental mansion that has a rich history and is closely associated with the Vanderbilt family. Cornelius Vanderbilt II, the grandson of the famous railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, purchased the property in the fall of 1885. He and his wife, Alice Claypoole Gwynne Vanderbilt, transformed it into their summer residence, and it remained in the Vanderbilt family for almost a century.

Cornelius Vanderbilt II was a prominent figure in the Gilded Age and one of the wealthiest individuals in the United States. He commissioned renowned architect Richard Morris Hunt to design The Breakers, which was completed in 1895. The mansion is a stunning example of the Beaux-Arts architectural style, with its grand exterior, opulent interiors, and meticulous attention to detail.

The Breakers served as a summer retreat for the Vanderbilt family, offering respite from their busy lives in New York City. The family would spend their summers in Newport, enjoying the cool ocean breezes and engaging in social activities within Newport’s elite circles. The Vanderbilts hosted lavish parties and entertained high-profile guests, further solidifying their status as one of America’s wealthiest and most influential families.

Over the years, The Breakers witnessed the comings and goings of several generations of Vanderbilts. However, as time passed, the family’s interest in maintaining the property waned. After Cornelius Vanderbilt II’s death in 1899, his wife Alice continued to spend summers at The Breakers, but subsequent generations began to spend less time there.

In 1948, The Breakers was designated a National Historic Landmark, recognizing its architectural significance and its association with the Vanderbilt family. This designation helped ensure the preservation of the mansion for future generations.

The last Vanderbilt descendants to call The Breakers home were Gladys Vanderbilt Szápáry and her husband, Count László Szápáry. Gladys, the daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt II’s youngest son, Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt, inherited The Breakers in 1970. She and her husband lived in a private wing of the mansion, while the rest of the property was opened to the public as a museum.

Gladys Vanderbilt Szápáry was known for her philanthropy and dedication to preserving the family legacy. She worked tirelessly to maintain The Breakers and its extensive collection of artwork and furniture. However, in recent years, the cost of upkeep and the challenges of running a museum became increasingly difficult for the aging couple.

In 2018, Gladys Vanderbilt Szápáry and her husband made the difficult decision to move out of The Breakers and into a smaller residence. This marked the end of an era, as it was the first time in almost a century that the Vanderbilt family no longer had a presence at the iconic mansion.

Today, The Breakers continues to be operated as a museum by the Preservation Society of Newport County, allowing visitors to step back in time and experience the grandeur of the Gilded Age. The mansion stands as a testament to the Vanderbilt family’s wealth, influence, and their contribution to American history.