George C. Arnold building

At only 12 1/2 feet deep, the George Arnold building is an anomoly in the Downtown Historic District

About this Property

#Redevelopment

In the late 1990s, the adjacent and mutually supporting structure behind the George Arnold building was torn down for surface parking (Plymouth Building, 106–112 Mathewson Street, listing Central Real Estate business as occupant1). Many thought this narrow building would not survive, as its back wall was actually the wall of the adjacent building.

While the ground-floor retail spaces of this building were occupied for over 10 years up until 2009, the upper floors were decaying from years of under-use and neglect. In 2009, a mysterious fire damaged the upper floors. The building would appear on PPS’s Ten Most Endangered List three year in a row — 2010, 2011, and 2012.

In 2013 it was acquired by a private developer with support from the Providence Revolving Fund and the Providence Redevelopment Agency for redevelopment and reuse.

#Current Events

A grand opening was held in 2016. Two ground-floor business occupy the space — including the local food truck favorite Frisky Fries — and three apartments occupy the other two floors.

#History

From the National Register nomination form for the Downtown Providence Historic District, 1983, prepared by William McKenzie Woodward

A three-story, brick-sheathed structure with mid-20th-century storefronts; 7-bay pier-and-spandrel system on upper stories with Chicago windows and decorative metal spandrels; decorative boxed copper cornice supported by consoles. Erected by a real-estate developer whose house still stands in Elmwood at 238 Adelaide Avenue, the George C. Arnold Building is a handsome structure typical of the low-rise structures built in the area during the years following the Great War.

Only 12 1/2-feet deep, the George C. Arnold Building is the narrowest office building Downtown. Arnold apparently built this narrow structure after he discovered the building to its rear on Mathewson Street occupied a small portion of Arnold property — thus this building uses the infringing portion of the adjacent structure as its rear wall. The Arnold family, which still owns this structure and the one at 120-130 Washington Street (just across Mathewson Street), has held property in this area since at least the middle of the 19th century.

#In the News

Providence’s Arnold Building changes hands

by Paul Grimaldi
Providence Journal | January 7, 2014

A rundown building in the heart of the city is now in the hands of developers as a city agency has transferred ownership of the dilapidated structure to a private group.

In 2013, Mayor Angel Taveras singled out the George C. Arnold Building at 94-100 Washington St., as an eyesore he wanted to see refurbished as part of his larger economic development plan for the city.

The Providence Redevelopment Agency on Tuesday transferred ownership of the historic and vacant building, located just blocks from City Hall, to 100 Washington Street LLC, a private entity.

Developers Dave Stem and Lori Quinn, in partnership with the the Providence Revolving Fund will rebuild the structure. The city is providing $220,000 in federal block grant funding to help jump start the project.

The developers plan to build three apartments and two ground-floor commercial spaces within the narrow, three-story building.

3 Downcity Buildings Could Be Razed

A city ordinance preventing demolition is voided by a Superior Court judge.

by Gregory Smith
Providence Journal | September 27, 2004

Three Downcity buildings, two of which are considered historically significant, could be demolished because a special zoning district created to protect them has been invalidated in court.

The owners of the buildings have submitted applications for city demolition permits, apparently intending to use the cleared land for parking. The buildings under threat are in the Downcity district, which the city created a decade ago to preserve the distinctive 19th- and early 20th-century architecture of the older part of downtown.

They are:

The vacant three-story Providence National Bank building, which was the longtime home of Fleet Bank’s trust department but is sometimes referred to by the name of a more recent tenant, the former Downing Corp. Carrying two addresses, 90 Westminster St. and 30 Weybosset St., the building stretches from one street to another, angled like a slightly closed elbow. The Colonial Revival brick frontage on Westminster dates to 1929 and the Weybosset frontage, also inspired by classical design, to 1950.

(A.I.R.: As of December 2005, 90 Westminster St was razed for a new development that never happened, the OneTen.)

The vacant First Federal Savings and Loan building at 110 Westminster St., adjacent to The Arcade, a national historic landmark. The two-story building carries the signs of a former tenant, the Buck A Book store.

(A.I.R.: This building was razed in December 2005 as well for the OneTen.)

The three-story George C. Arnold Building, 100 Washington St., at the corner of Mathewson Street. Its current occupants are Kevin’s Corner Smoke Shop, Honorbilt apparel, Downtown Liquors and a telemarketing office. Built in 1923, it is the most shallow Downcity building, with a depth of only 12 1/2 feet.

Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Procaccini ruled in June that the ordinance underpinning the Downcity district was technically flawed, improperly implemented and is void. City officials are moving to reinstate the district by reenacting the ordinance in a way that would withstand court scrutiny, as well as taking other steps. His ruling is under appeal.

But, for the time being, some property owners believe the city’s legal shield has dropped and they are free to knock down what they see as functionally obsolete buildings that stand in the way of economic development.

“Not every building is beautiful” and worthy of preservation, declared developer and property owner Joseph R. Paolino Jr., who filed the successful lawsuit to have the Downcity District nullified. (A.I.R.: 😠)

Jim Litsey, a lawyer and president of the Providence Preservation Society, sees the court decision as ominous. “It would be a real shame if we were to have a building demolition in this interim period just because the Downcity District had what I would call a technical defect,” Litsey said.

Building Official Paxson has refused to accept the demolition application from PCRL Realty, owner of the George C. Arnold Building, which he called “wholly inadequate.” Pat Cortellessa, owner of PCRL Realty, said he will improve his application and resubmit it. “You might have a window of opportunity“ for demolition while the Downcity district is in disarray, Cortellessa said. “So take advantage of the opportunity.”

Downcity and the Financial District together comprise a district that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A register listing confers no protection from demolition unless government money is involved in the redevelopment of the site. The Providence National Bank Building and the George C. Arnold Building are considered to be “contributing structures” to the importance and the integrity of the national district.

  1. G.M. Hopkins cadastral map, published 1937. Copy used for reference at Historic Map Works, captured December 12, 2020. http://www.historicmapworks.com/Map/US/895458/Plate+001/Providence+1937/Rhode+Island/