Thayer Street, #283, 281, 279, & 279 1/2

also known as Sushi Express, Hole in the Wall Sandwich Shop, Tom’s Tracks, Shades Plus, Army Navy Store

Another erosion of the neighborhood fabric, moving from wood-built houses to slick “modern concept” commercial structures

About this Property

#Reason for Demolition

It’s easy to propose and be granted a demolition permit now that this important commercial corridor in the College Hill Historic District has been gutted. In 10 years, four blocks along Thayer Street, Cushing to Angell, have seen the loss or conversion beyond recognition of twenty-five structures. We have written previously about the many demolitions in this neighborhood, and to recap:

Our recent essay about the demise of 235 Meeting Street goes into more detail about the erosion of this section of College Hill, titled Meeting Street, #235 — The Quick Demise of Four Blocks within a Historic District.

But let’s address the current heartache, and the demise of one of the few remaining wood-frame houses on this commercial section of Thayer Street, and some of the oldest. 281 Thayer Street, known best as the home of Tom’s Tracks and Shades Plus amongst a certain generation, was built as early as 1875. It and its neighbor to the rear of the plat have been part of the streetscape for the last 120 years.

The former Army Navy building at 279 was built between 1920 and 1951, while the tiny Sushi Express building at 283 was squeezed between its neighbors sometime in the 1970s (we think). The building at 279 was also known as The Garage for some time before the Army Navy Store moved in.

The demolition of so many other properties in this section of the district made it much easier to propose and be granted a demolition permit for these remaining structures. That they were probably in a state of deferred maintenance made it even easier.

#Current Events

A proposal by Michael Boutros and his development company Two Cousins came before the Providence City Plan Commission in May of 2022. Mr. Boutros is also owner of the adjacent commercial block with current tenants Chinatown and Mighty Mike’s Pizza.1 The proposal included a new four story apartment building with ground floor retail (PDF plans) on the site, using all of the available land. After a few rounds of design review changes, the plan was approved. As far as we know, while the meetings were public, there was little neighborhood input on the plans.

Paul Boutros (the other cousin, presumably) and Two Cousins is the developer for the building to replace 235 Meeting Street, also a four-story apartment building with ground-floor retail.

#History

These two houses were some of the oldest surviving structures on this commercial portion of the street (the oldest being 307 Thayer and 223 Thayer). The house at the street front and a similar 2-1/2 story house at the rear of the property is present on a 1908 map. They remain in the same configuration on all Sanborn maps from 1920 to 1956 that we have access to.

The commercial block was constructed between 1921 and 1951. What became “The Garage” and then the Army Navy Store is an independent structure with an independent party wall, labelled with postal address 279. The house behind was labelled 279 1/2 after its construction.


From the College Hill Historic District nomination form, Edward F. Sanderson & Keith N. Morgan, January 1976

281 Thayer Street, 1875-95. 2-1/2 stories; end gable; shingle; 2-family house converted to commercial use; greatly altered; storefront on 1st and in basement; recent Colonial Revival door frame on 1st floor door; iron railings; fish scale shingles in gable end.

  1. Rasquinha, Rhea. “Turnover on Thayer: many closures, some new developments.” Brown Daily Herald, September 8, 2022. Accessed October 25, 2022 from https://www.browndailyherald.com/article/2022/09/turnover-on-thayer-many-closures-some-new-developments