Traveller’s Aid former WT Grants


These structures came down in late 2005 to make way for a parking/retail hub for the new Downcity. We at A.I.R. have basically no problem with this demolition… RISD stands to gain much needed parking, as well as all the new residents for the surrounding loft condos. Traveller’s Aid gets bigger and better digs at the newly renovated YMCA – the only thing that troubles us, as the first anecdote puts it, is the gated-community feel about the whole thing, and the move of needed services like Traveller’s Aid to the outskirts of the city.

Developer changing face of Downcity

by Gregory Smith
Providence Journal | December 4, 2003 (abridged)

Developer Arnold A. “Buff” Chace and two of his relatives are preparing to clear the way to build a parking garage at the current location of Travelers Aid Society of Rhode Island. The 450-car garage would primarily serve a mini-community of residents and small commercial enterprises that Chace is nurturing in an effort to reinvent what used to be the city’s downtown shopping district as a mixed-use neighborhood.

Although the reinvention features the preservation and reuse of mostly vacant 19th-century mercantile buildings, five unremarkable structures would have to be razed to make way for the long-planned garage. Two new buildings would serve as bookends to the garage and would house ground-floor retail and up to 30 apartments or condominiums. Chace estimates the overall project would cost $25 million to $30 million and, because the garage would also serve the general public, he and his partners are looking for government assistance to pay for it.

As Chace sees it, they are building the city’s infrastructure. “We’d prefer not to have to build it,” he commented. “The City of Providence hasn’t been building structured parking” to serve downtown.

He is in partnership with his first cousin, Malcolm “Kim” Chace, Malcolm Chace’s wife Elizabeth, and Cambridge, Mass., developer Robert Kuehn for different parts of his campaign to remake Downcity. Kuehn is a member of the board of advisers for the National Trust for Historical Preservation.

Arnold Chace and Cornish Associates has rehabilitated or is rehabilitating a slew of old buildings to create about 225 apartments and condominiums and 47,900 square feet of retail and office space: The Smith Building on Fulton Street; the Alice Building at Westminster and Union Streets; the Burgess and Burgess Heirs Buildings and the O’Gorman Building on Westminster; the Wilkinson Building, sometimes called the Lerner building for the store that used to occupy it, at Westminster and Eddy Streets; and an agglomeration of five buildings called, in shorthand, the Peerless/Low Buildings, on Westminster.

The Peerless/Low project has attracted particular attention because the owner of Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, a popular nightclub, had to be persuaded to leave his space in the former Peerless department store because the noise and vibration from his concerts would disturb the residents that Chace intends to bring in. Lupo’s relocated to the Strand Theater two blocks away.

Integral to the revival of Downcity, according to municipal plans, is the relocation of Travelers Aid from its current location at 177-199 Union St. in a former W.T. Grant’s department store, to the former Intown YMCA building across Route 95 at 160 Broad St. To rid Downcity of the social-service agency’s occasionally troublemaking clientele, civic leaders and city officials prevailed on Travelers Aid to move. As part of a bargain with the city and the business community, Travelers Aid will get larger and better accommodations. But Travelers Aid encountered financial and construction problems renovating its new home, delaying Chace’s garage project by at least a year.

The Chaces have a purchase and sale agreement to buy the current Travelers Aid building for $1.1 million. The sale will close as soon as Travelers Aid can move into its new home, according to Nolan. Last year the Chaces spent $3,475,000 to acquire most of the rest of the block. Other than the Travelers Aid building, the structures to be razed used to house a Dunkin’ Donuts and a bar called Mama’s Metro Cafe, on the Weybosset Street side, and currently house Craftland, a temporary Christmas store, and Two Brothers Beauty Supply on the Westminster Street side.

The developers will have to work around the Roger Williams Building, on the corner of Westminster and Clemence Streets, which houses New Image apparel shop and offices. That structure has historical merit and a future as a fine professional office building, according to owner Stanley Weiss, and he declined to sell.

As for the retail component of the garage project, Chace envisions a restaurant or cafe on the Westminster Street side because there is a wide sidewalk for outdoor seating and it faces south, for more sunny days. On the Weybosset Street side, he figures neighborhood conveniences such as a florist or dry cleaner and a specialty store with a Providence flavor would be likely possibilities.

David Westcott April 16 2008 In 2000 I had occasion to tour the WT Grants building (then partially occupied by Travelers Aid). I took several photos inside and out. Since I was conducting a pre-demolition audit for hazardous materials, most of my pictures aren’t of general interest, but there are several shots of the facade and interior which might be of interest to your readers. I’ll be happy to send them to you for posting if you give me an e-mail address.
   The building was eerie, especially since I had vague memories of going shopping there when I was younger. I believe it was the first downtown department store with central air conditioning, a big attractant for summer shopping. There were massive compressors and huge (asbestos insulated) ducts all over the top floor that chilled air and dropped it to the floors below.
   The next floor down had offices and staff areas that looked very 1950s-60s. The neatest place was the employee check-in area. There were wall hooks where floor workers hung their outdoor coats, a counter with numbered cubicles where they checked their pocketbooks or personal effects, and a changing room where they put on their W.T. Grants uniforms for the work day. It all still had a vague “ready for work tomorrow” look to it.

Bob E I used to walk by this place when I had an art studio, that was dirty cheap (in the 80’s (400 sq feet for $130 a month) in an almost completely empty building at 57 Eddy St. This place pictured was indeed Grants Dept store in the 60’s and early 70’s. Later it got a new facade and became the oft-avoided Traveller’s Aid place, and Strawberry’s Records, and, a smaller record shop called Rainbow Records. Outside the Dunkin Donuts an innocuous stone/concrete planter was known later on the street, according to the news, as the infamous “the island”. It was a hangout for genuinely creepy types sometimes, and profiled as the “starting point” for those now-jailed hoodlums who infamously robbed/carjacked/shot a young couple using an ATM. I’m not sure if it was taken out by the city (last time I drove by it) just to get rid of it’s association. More has been torn down since, the entire corner of buildings as I remember, is gone.

Ken B  I beleive this building was the W.T. Grant building which was a dept. store chain . i had the pleasure of working on the boiler in the travlers aid days. there was an old boiler inspection certificate that said W.T. Grant was the occupant.

stephen what a shame lets turn the city into rich people land. next the providence police will tell everyone in the city who don’t live there to move on. Don’t kidd yourself, Providence police will be “ridding” the city of troublesome types and the places they frequent reflects a suburban, gated-community approach to urban planning. trust me. Who in this city has 2.1 million to live in the city? soon the rich will be the protected while the poor and middle class (which is getting smaller) will be paying more taxes to keep rich land (downtown) on its feet and getting less police attenton. where do you think the police will be watching? downtown! and the neighboorhoods in the city will suffer.

Lori-Ann I worked overnight shifts in that Dunkin Donuts in the late 70s and very early 80s. We watched the Outlet burn and then be torn down. I worked for Jimmy Sampalis, whose cousin Dennis owned the infamous Saki’s Pizza next door. The bar crowds were entertaining at 2-3 am.

Jeff A “As Chace sees it, they are building the city’s infrastructure.” BS. Parking garages as infrastructure? Please. Chace and associates control the Smith, Alice, Burgess, Burgess Heirs, O’Gorman and Wilkinson buildings, plus the Peerless/Low buildings. with all their apartments, condos, office and retail spaces. The garage is plainly meant to accomodate these interests. Easing the city’s parking restrictions would help some of these new residents find parking for their cars.
    The ProJo article calls this “an effort to reinvent what used to be the city’s downtown shopping district.” It concerns me that so much of downtown Providence is in the hands of just a few players with the same plan in mind.
   Out goes the Dunkin Donuts, a bar, a popular live performance venue, a social services agency, and two small ‘specialty’ stores, to be replaced by – what? Oh, “conveniences such as a florist or dry cleaner and a specialty store with a Providence flavor ”. Great.
   Nobody who ever passed Travelers Aid on a warm day, when the smell of stale piss came off the street and sidewalks, will truthfully regret that it’s moved elsewhere; but “ridding” the city of troublesome types and the places they frequent reflects a suburban, gated-community approach to urban planning.

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