What is now known as Imperial Place was once home to the Imperial Knife Company and the Vesta Knitting Mills which occupied it into the mid-eighties. One of the first mill to condo conversions, it has been condominiums and office space since the early nineties.
It is made up of four buildings, occupying a block bounded by Imperial Place, Elm Street, Hospital Street, and Bassett Streets:
14 Imperial Place (22 units of residential/mixed use)
18 Imperial Place (46(?) units of residential/mixed use)
Imperial Dorms (Johnson & Wales) on Hospital Street
and one low slung building on Hospital Street.
14 Imperial Place is home to the restaurant CAV as well as Jerry’s Art-a-Rama art supply store and framing shop.
From the RIHPHC’s 1981 Industrial Buildings Survey)
In 1883 Rudolph Berry established a company to manufacture ribbed, knitted underwear and hosery made on circular-knitting machines. This type of jersey underwear for women and children previously had been imported from France, England, and Switzerland. Berry’s company started in a small, 2-story building. By 1888 he had outgrown these structures and built two 3-story buildings. A few years later, in 1891, the business incorporated as the Vesta Knitting Mills. By this time the company had doubled its output of knitted goods. The machinery included spinning. carding, drying, scouring, and knitting machines which were operated by 300 employees. The company soon established a sales office in New York and Vesta products were distributed throughout the country.
The Vesta Knitting Mills, one of the few textile companies located in this part of the city, took advantage of the proximity of the jewelry district in a few blocks to the northeast when it expanded its factory in 1893 and 1903. The Vesta Company occupied most of its 1893 factory – a handsome, 6-story, brick structure with segmental-arch windows, rounded corners, and manufacturers. With jewelry-manufacturing rental space at a premium in or near the jewelry district, the Vesta Knitting Mills soon invested in a second large factory designed primarily for jewelry manufacturing. The company rented five of the six floors to jewelry manufacturers and occupied one floor of the new structure. This plain brick structure with a flat roof, segmental-arch windows, and granite sills is adjacent to the earlier structure. In 1916 the Vesta Knitting Mills reorganized as the Vesta Underwear Company with Ovide de St. Aubin as the president and his brother Percival as the treasurer. By 1930 the Vesta Underwear Company was producing 4000 dozen garments a week. In 1941, however, the Vesta Underwear Company closed its plant and sold the buildings to the Imperial Knife Company which already occupied the 1903 structure.
The Imperial Knife Company, founded by Felix Mirando, was the first large American manufacturer of jack knives, a product which had previously been imported from Germany and England. By 1929 the company employed 1,000 workers. The Imperial Knife Company, which now manufactures all kinds of cutlery, still occupies these buildings (in 1981).
Pete Kelley Feb 16 2016 Since my last anecdote two years ago My "Imperial Key Knife" collection has grown to Include a Robeson Knife and a Colonial Knife. If any of the other contributors Have any information about these knives with car keys, I would appreciate hear from you. you may use my email. I’m going to be 80 this year so I don’t have too much time left. bethpete5 [at] gmail [dot] com
Pete Kelley Nov 13 2014 I have a story about the Imperial Pocket Knife that had a car key blank as a second blade. I saw one of these when I was a young boy back in the early 1940s. An older guy had a 1937 Chevrolet and he had one of these knives in the ignition switch. At first we (my friends and I) thought he had stolen the car and jimmied the ignition with a pen knife. He told us the car dealer gave him the knife when he bought the car new. I never saw or heard of these knives again until 2004 when I started restoring a 1950 Chevrolet. The previous owner told me he had no keys for the car. When I started to remove sections of the body for the restoration project, I found an Imperial pen knife with a Chevrolet logo and a cut key blank. The key fit the locks in the car. I finally finished the car in 2009. During the time of working on the car I accumulated several more knives. I also learned that Curtis Industries of Cleveland made the blanks for these knives. I don’t go to many car shows with my car, but when I do, the big attraction is the Key Knife in the ignition. Not many of the folks have seen these knives.
Norm Farnum Nov 12 2012 My wife was cleaning out a kitchen drawer this evening and came across the Imperial Pocket Knife that I’ve had ever since I was a boy. It’s been in the family for a long time. It’s a four-blade model - actually two blades (one little one and the big one stamped with the "Imperial Prov, R.I." at the base). The smaller blade is paired with the "CanOpener - Pat. Pend." The large blade is paired with a combination bottle opener/flat bladed screw-driver. The knife measures about 3 3/4" in its closed position, with a stiff wire for attaching to a clip or fob. If you’re interested in a photo, please email. norm[at]farnumfamily[dot]org
Frank Butterfield Sep 19 2012 I was Mr. and Mrs. Felix Mirando’s chauffeur in the early sixties. Also when they didn’t need me I ran errands for Mr. Michael Mirando and the Fazzano’s. Both families were great people. Very good to there employies and very active in community work. I met a lot of very important people when driving Mr. Mirando around such as Senator John O"Pastore, Father Hass President of Providence College at the time, the Bishops Secretary and Monsignor and also Governor Chaffee all people i remember as being very nice. They also had a cutlery plant and a plating co. Cutlery was in Olneyville I think Plating probably was to but my memory of where slips by me. Mr. and Mrs. Mirando's boys also worked for the Co. Robert managed the plating Co and Felix Jr. worked out of and office in New York City, sale and promotion I guess , not sure :) Daughter,s all who were just like rest of family's were very nice people. Names escape me now. I,m now 72. I will and have always remembered them with great love and respect.
nancy thornlimb Mar 8 2012 Mr. Fazzano bought his Chryslers at Hurd & Goldberg in Cranston where I was employed. The story was that the street was originally called Blount St. and that he had the name changed because the name wasn’t fitting for a knife co.
Alyce de St. Aubin Phillips Apr 29 2010 My Great Grandfather bought the Vesta Underwear company in 1916 with his son, not brother, Percival. Do you have any more information about Percival de St. Aubin?
Jeanne Rasmussen Jan 6 2010 From 1946 - 1948 My father managed the cafeteria for Imperial Knife Co. I was 9 or 10 at the time and he would come home and talk about his job and how much he liked everyone. Every so often he would bring my mother and me a piece of jewelry, which was out of this world. The jewelry and knives he collected while we lived in Providence was lost in a home fire in 1954.
karen Apr 14 2009 One of my great aunts use to work there. She always had knives and spoons and kitchen utensils for us.
patricia taylor Aug 13 2008 i need inf. on a imperial pocket knife made in the usa. it has 2 blades a brass lookin finish with a picture of a steam engin with 7 cars behind it. facing differint directions on eaaach side. it is 3 in. long. i would just like a history on that knife. if you could help it would be very appreciated. i would like to give this to my grandson but i would like a history to go along with it also it was made by imperial knife co. in the usa. i have had it for 30 years. thank you. liftrepair [at] bellsouth [dot] net
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