Brownell and Field Standardized Wholesale Liquors

Breaking News

And she’s almost gone...

Demo crews have been busy lately... this is the second announcement I’ve had to make in 2 weeks (April). Recently it was Regal Plating, now it’s this neglected building. There has been much talk about this building, that it is another case of demolition by neglect, and there has even been some movement to create legislation to make Demolition by Neglect more enforceable. Sadly, too little, too late. One of the last remaining warehouses in the Providence Provisions District has gone the way of so many before – Merchants Cold Storage, the Costello Brothers Building, Armour & Company Building and Providence Fruit Warehouse

Interestingly, as far as I can tell, the additional portion that houses the Monet Lounge seems to be staying.

additional links

GC:PVD’s page on this developing story
The Provisions Warehouse District at the Library of Congress


From PPS: On August 23, 2010, representatives from the Providence Journal Company, which owns the Brownell & Field Company building, went before the Historic District Commission (HDC) to request permission to demolish the building. The HDC tabled the discussion, asking for clarification of estimates provided for the cost of stabilization and requiring the owner to look more seriously into alternatives to demolition, like selling the building. The HDC is scheduled to take up this issue again at its next meeting in September.

Listed on PPS’s 2010 Ten Most Endangered Properties List, the Brownell & Field Company building (1907-08) is one of the few remaining historic structures of its kind in the Smith Hill neighborhood. The Providence Journal Company purchased the building in the mid-1980s for its land value and has since used the building for storage, though it has remained mostly empty. If demolition approval is granted, there are no immediate plans for the site.

Standardized Liquor Company built the addition to the Brownell building at 115 Harris Ave, and it currently houses a late night dance club and bar called Monet.

The construction of the mall and resulting exit ramp off of Rt 95/Rt 6 took down the neighboring Costello Tobacco and Liquor Warehouse (ca. 1937). You can see a bit of this off ramp to the right in the first photo in our series.



In 1895, when Autocrat was incorporated as the Brownell & Field Company, our founder, Frank O. Field, was planning the introduction of “the most delicious coffee you ever tasted.” While reading a series of essays in The Atlantic Monthly titled “The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table,” his attention was drawn to the word Autocrat, one who rules with undisputed sway. It was then that our flagship product, Autocrat Coffee, got its name.

Wholesale provisions companies constructed buildings in what was known as the Provisions Warehouse Historic District between 1894 and 1947. (Other buildings in this district on ArtInRuins include the Merchants Cold Storage building, the Fruit and Produce Warehouse, and HP Hood and Co.)

The Brownell and Field Company was a wholesale grocer who dealt in canned goods as well as coffee and tea. The company and the building were established in 1907. The building has a utilitarian style, unlike most of the other buildings once in the district that had a more Art Deco or even Gothic revival style. What is interesting, though, is the way the building was constructed on an angle, inline with the railroad lines and oblique to the direction of Harris Ave. Sometime in the past 20 years the green metal sun shields were added the the facade of the building.

From PPS’s Industrial Sites and Commercial Buildings Survey 2001-2002:

It is three-story, flat-roof, lozenge-shaped, brick industrial building with close proximity to the railroad tracks. The western half of the building was constructed first and features a centrally located pedestrian entrance on the façade (south) set within a recessed, round-arch opening; this entrance has been blocked in. A secondary pedestrian entrance is offset on the façade, within a segmental-arch, recessed opening. A wide vehicular entrance is located on the west elevation. Brick piers articulate each bay of the building. Fenestration consists of segmental-arch openings with paired 1/1 and 4/4 sash set below fixed transoms and granite sills. Metal louvered shades have been added to the windows. An historic view of the building shows that windows were 4/4 sash and a sign reading: “Brownell & Field Co. Wholesale Grocers Tea and Coffee” spanned the cornice line. A smaller sign reading: “Brownell & Field Co. Office and Showroom” spanned the front entrance. A large metal smokestack and two brick chimneys rise from the east end of the building.
Attached to the east is a large, rectangular, three-story, brick block (113 Harris Avenue; 1920s) with a concrete foundation notable for its chamfered corner on Harris Avenue. The building is embellished with concrete bands outlining floors and the chamfered corner. An oversized, recessed opening features wood stairs and ramps. The building’s main entrance is comprised of a metal-and-glass door flanked by single-light sidelights and set below a single-light transom. Fenestration is comprised of rectangular openings with multi-light metal sash windows. The building’s easternmost side is contoured to the railroad tracks. These buildings are extant remnants of the eastern Promenade District's history as a railroad hub.
The Brownell & Field Building was constructed between 1895 and 1908 when it appears on the map of that year. The building is identified as Brownell & Field on early twentieth century maps, with shipping and receiving on the first floor, storage and canning on the second, and storage and coffee roasting occurring on the third floor of the original block. The 1919 Sanborn map shows only the trapezoidal, westernmost block. The property was acquired by the Field Land Company in 1908, possibly when the building was constructed. The 1950 directory lists Brownell & Field, wholesale grocers, and Carter Rice & Co., paper dealers, at this address. The property remained under the ownership of the Field Land Company until 1981 when it was purchased by Autocrat, Inc.

From the National Register nomination form, US Dept of the Interior, written by Anne Tait and Virginia Adams, 1994, Public Archeology Lab:

With the lifting of the 18th Amendment on December 12, 1933, after 13 years of policed sobriety, came the opportunity for companies such as Standardized Wholesale Liquors Company (ca. 1937) to establish distribution and sales of alcoholic beverages.
The major redevelopment activity in the area was the expansion of the Providence Journal Company’s distribution facilities. Although the Journal had been active in this area since the 1920s at 184 Kinsley, it was not until several years later that they built a one-story warehouse at 200 Kinsley Ave (ca. 1937) which is now part of the Journal Company’s 204 Kinsley Avenue Plant. In 1976 they bought the buildings owned by HP Hood at 135 and 145 Harris Avenue, however, Hood continued to lease the creamery until 1986. In 1988 the Journal completed the large Production Facilities Plant at 204 Kinsley and the garages, which once served the fleet of Hood delivery trucks were demolished to make way for the Journal’s modern facilities.

John Battick (Ph.D.) Feb 28 2017 I have a cylindrical paperboard one-pound container with the Autocrat Coffee label from Brownell & Field Co. The top is missing, the metal bottom is rusty and the container showing its age. Directions to make coffee are intact on the label. Of anyone is interested in acquiring this item, I shall be glad to mail to him/her/it — preference to a historical society. Please get back to me at my email address. jbattick [at] roadrunner [dot] com

Ed Cifelli Sep 27 2013 My father worked for Autocrat in the early 1950s. He delivered the coffee in a box truck to the different locations and part of the route would take him by the old Gladstone St Elementary School where I was. He would give me a ride home in that big yellow and black cab-over truck. It was a thrill to be able to get in the truck and look at the world through that big glass from so high up. Now when I think about my father, that is one of the many things that come to mind. There were also times during the week that I was allowed to go into the plant. I can still remember a display of the different roasts and blends that were in the front office.

DE May 20 2011 I originally thought someone was gutting the building to do a rehab. It is now obvious it is on its way down... too bad for another piece of history.

John Feb 18 2011 My dad worked for Standard Wholesale from 1948 to 1971. They moved to Naragansett Ave. before he retired.

Rhonda Bucci Apr 23 2010 I was born in Providence, but now live in Santa Barbara, CA and found a Brownell Coffee mug at a thrift store, and decided to look up the company which brought me to this website, I recognize the building. (Both of my parents are from Olneyville) not to far from Harris Ave. And my inlaws are from Federal Hill. And I grew up on coffee milk, stock-up on it every time i’m in R.I. Now I have a nice mug to remind me of home. WAs their coffee as good as Dunkin Donuts?

Mike Blake A wealth of historical detail on the property, but no mention of what Brownell & Field was most famous for to average Rhode Islander, if they ever knew the original name of the manufacturer: they made the legendary Autocrat Coffee Syrup, source of the best coffee milk in the state (unless you were an Eclipse fan). {ED. This omission has been corrected and added to the history above} When I worked downtown, though, they’d already moved to Lincoln and just owned the building.

The information about each building grows as visitors let us know about their experiences. Did you or a member of your family work here? Did you grow up near it as a child? Let us know. All entries will be moderated and may be posted in an edited form. We will use your name unless you tell us otherwise. We will not make your email public.

Color 1 Color 2 Color 3