Current events, history and photos compiled by Marc Berman
The first floor will feature freshly designed retail shops and restaurants, while the second and third floors will be home to residents of 48 micro-lofts—small, efficiently designed living spaces – 1-bedroom units from 225-450 sq. ft with everything built-in and included.
Thursday, May 7, 2009 | Philip Marcelo for the Providence Journal
The Arcade, the downtown landmark that is credited as America’s first indoor mall, is being threatened, after it was shuttered last year in preparation for a major renovation of the mall’s interior, according to the Providence Preservation Society.
In danger too is the former Providence National Bank building next door on Weybosset Street. The 1940s-era facade – what its owners had hoped to preserve for a major development that ultimately did not come to pass – is all that remains, propped up by rusting steel beams.
Ditto for the imposing domed towers that bookend Olneyville’s Atlantic Mills, once the city’s largest textile factory.
The three properties (or parts of properties) are among newest additions to the society’s Top 10 Most Endangered Properties, an annual list released Wednesday.
The list is compiled to raise awareness of the historic properties falling into disrepair either through neglect, lack of financing, adverse public policy, or what the Preservation Society calls “inappropriate development.” It is supposed to generate interest and support in the preservation of the identified buildings, with the hope that some part of the city’s historic fabric can be saved.
“All of these buildings need action now in order to prevent their loss,” said Oliver H.L. Bennett, president of the society.
Thanks to Jef Nickerson at GCPVD for keeping up with this developing story. Most of this info was compiled from his great Greater City: Providence site.
The Bay Area Hub describes itself as a “coworking space, event series, and professional toolset for changemakers.” “The Hub” goes on to say:
“During the day, The Hub is a dynamic, collision-rich workspace designed by its Members and the wisdom gleaned from Hub communities throughout the world. Social innovators in the Bay Area are leaving their sterile offices, noisy cafes, and isolated living rooms to work alongside diverse peers in a professionally hosted environment. They choose The Hub because it’s where they find the access, tools, community, and inspiration they need to transform their ideas into action.”
“At night, The Hub transforms into an event platform for member driven collaborations, lectures, screenings, innovation labs, and some of the most compelling and imaginative minds from around the world.”
In any case, The Hub appears to be the exact sort of incubator that the Economic Development Corporation would seek to bring to Providence. One catch? The Arcade building is approximately 20,000 square feet larger than any of the existing “Hub” locations, making them unlikely to be the single-tenant solution the Arcade property owners have sought. Only time will tell how this one plays out.
In the early part of the 19th century, American builders began to experiment with the concept of shopping arcades with many shops, restaurants and businesses enclosed under a single roof. While the arcades didn’t necessarily catch on, they are the fundamental ancestors of the modern American shopping Mall. The Providence Arcade is the oldest in the country to survive to the current day.
Designed by architects Russell Warren and James C. Bucklin, the Providence Arcade (or just “The Arcade” colloquially) was built in 1828 by the Arcade Realty Company and builder Cyrus Butler. At the time of the Arcade’s opening, Providence was one of the most prosperous seaports in New England.
Warren was himself a pioneer of the Greek Revival style in Rhode Island, and the Providence Arcade has even been compared to a Greek Temple to commerce. Inside, three floors of retail spaces look out onto a wide central walkway and a glass roof lets in natural light. At each end of the Arcade (at 130 Westminster st. and 65 Weybosset st.) is a portico, supported by six ionic columns. The column shafts are three feet in diameter and more than twenty feet high.
Teams of oxen dragged each column five miles from the Bare Ledge Quarry in Johnston, RI (near the interchange of I-295 and State Route 44) to Providence, on a huge cart constructed especially for this purpose. Joseph Olney supervised the quarrying and carving of the granite columns. His son, Joseph Jr., left his mark on the Arcade as well. On one of the columns had a small defect in the stone, which was filled with a soapstone plug – carved, initialed, and dated by him. At the time of their erection, the Arcade’s columns were the largest monoliths in the country.
The Arcade fell on hard times during the 20th century and narrowly escaped demolition in 1944 when the Rhode Island Association for the Blind purchased the property as an investment, saving it from destruction. For many years, however, the Arcade was in poor physical and financial shape. Perhaps hardest hit by Providence’s poor economy during the 1970s, only a handful of shops remained during this time. In 1980, the building was extensively renovated by architects Irving B. Haynes and Associates and Gilbane Properties and saw new life, experiencing a boom that carried into the early 2000s. It was shorty administered by Johnson & Wales University around 2003.
When the property was acquired by Granoff Associates in 2007, the new owners began the process of forcing out the Arcade’s tenants, in order to realize plans to redevelop the building into a single-tenant property. Representatives from Granoff have stated that “the integrity of the building will be preserved during the renovations regarding the architectural and design treasures found here while giving the space enhanced economic viability.” If a single-tenant redevelopment plan is successful, the last legacy of grand shopping arcades in America would finally come to an end. Today, the property’s fate is once again in question, as Granoff’s plans appear to have stalled (on the neighboring OneTen and the Arcade) and the property continues to sit vacant, falling further into disrepair.
ElJiffy Sep 16 2015 Just to reiterate: it’s a crying shame that Providence can’t figure out a way to make the Arcade viable. Making it over into micro-lofts is a violence to its original design, which was meant to be open to the public, not closed-off and private. In its early 19th century capitalist glory, the Arcade was a temple to mercantile, Jacksonian democracy, where all — well, not all — but certain Americans were considered equal to any others. Personally I think it would be an excellent repository of the state and local archives, almost 4OO years of colony/state and local archives probably mouldering away in official attics and basements. MA built itself a new site for its state archives, but RI has none. Certainly nothing modern. If this is the only way the Arcade survives (until its next crisis) well and good: look what happened to Providence National Bank. Maybe (hopefully) it survives this latest metamorphosis, into a future that appreciates it.
Dean Jan 12 2013 I hear the Arcade is going to reopen with the 2nd and 3rd floors being studio apartments and the 1st floor being businesses. I love that building, great memories growing up.
Jeff May 6 2011 I think it’s an outrage that one of the most historically significant buildings in Providence has been shuttered. Who owns it now? What do they intend to do with it? It’s a shame that no matter who takes it over the Arcade is always in a precarious state; if only someone with staying power and deep pockets could take it over for the long haul. Meanwhile, those of us who care about this beautiful, unique structure should keep a close eye on its fate.
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