AIR Redevelop :: JWU Student Services Center
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Johnson & Wales University Student Services Center former Rolo bldg and DM Watkins Company


From PPS’s nomination to the 2008 Preservation Awards Known to many as the Rolo Building, this two-story building built in 1921 is a remnant of Providence’s history as a center of jewelry manufacturing. [...] Located adjacent to the soon-be-be-relocated I-195, Johnson & Wales saw the building as the ideal location for a new Student Services Center, consolidating six different academic services under one roof. They commissioned ARC/Architectural Resources Cambridge to formulate an adaptive reuse design solution that respects the historic building’s architectural integrity while integrating institutional requirements.

The spectacular rehabilitation, executed by Walsh Brothers, preserves original window openings and clerestory monitors and exposes the steel structure. The first floor, once a production floor filled with manufacturing equipment, now has a large, inviting lobby, conference room, and offices. The second floor originally held a machine shop and company offices. It is now home to light-filled workspaces and offices. Two historic objects were integrated into the new interior design. An industrial scale has been placed in the lobby and the circa 1961 “Rolo Building” sign has been installed above the second floor coffee bar. On the exterior, the original Watkins sign, which was covered for more than 30 years, has been restored. This project truly demonstrates Johnson & Wales University’s admirable commitment to the preservation of significant historic buildings in downtown Providence.


From The rectangular two-story, flat-roof, brick building has a nine-bay façade, with an offset entrance recessed and comprised of a glass-and-metal door with sidelights. Rolo Building appears above this entrance. Three pedestrian entrances are offset on Foster Street, set below a hoist and pulley system at the second story. The building is embellished with brick corbelling at the cornice, projecting brick piers articulating each bay on the façade, a granite beltcourse and granite sills. Both the Foster and Pine Street elevations are highly ornate while the side elevation is devoid of architectural ornamentation. Fenestration is comprised of single, paired, and tripled rectangular, 4/4 and 6/6 sash with transoms. A chainlink fence surrounds the parking lot.

The D.M. Watkins Jewelry Company was originally located at 95 Pine Street. The company purchased land on 274 Pine Street in 1919 and moved into their new manufacturing complex at 274 Pine Street in 1921 when it is listed in the directory of that year. They manufactured findings, settings, ornaments, and screw machine products and by 1927, had capital of $125,000. The President of the company, Fred W. Watkins, held his position for over 20 years (since 1925). The company was incorporated in 1955 and a Mr. Joseph W. Ress took control of the company. In 1959 the company left the building and it was vacant until purchased by Rolo Jewelry in 1961. They ran their company out of the 274 Pine Street location until 1997 when the building was purchased for use by Johnson and Wales University.

Gary June 23 2008 This building is finally undergoing construction and will open this fall as the new student center containing the Student academic services and Student Financial services.

Guest I have plans in front of me showing the building to be renovated and used possibly as a registrar’s office?

Bob E I have seen this building alot. It’s fairly amazing how recent the “;jewelry” district just kind of died and became something else. I used to commute to RI College and working in the city circa 1979-1983 I used to pass by these buildings and I recall many of them still had activity, employees etc. When exactly did these all sort of die off? It seemed like it was in the mid to late 80’s. The changes over time in any city can be amazing and predictable but the changes to Providence in the last 10-20 years I find shocking in the speed at which they have taken place. And not always good changes which makes them ever more shocking. I remember a lot of these old buildings became fly-by-night ad agencies back in the 80’s and most of those also just collapsed when companies took their advertising back in-house.

Ari Heckman From what I am told, J&W is going to try to reuse this building for classrooms and admin space, and build around it if necessary.

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