Williams Street #59

A quaint small cottage is delicately saved by a considerate addition and rebuild while the large lot was subdivided to support monster new construction

About this Property


Starting in 2019, the Historic District Commission (HDC) reviewed a set of projects that represented the breadth of activity that can occur in local historic districts: demolition, relocation, new construction, and additions to existing structures. The location within the College Hill Local Historic District put these changes under the scrutiny of HDC staff and commissioners.

Owners and architects wanted to demolish a non-contributing garage and relocate a circa 1875 cottage that is important to the fabric of the district. Demolition of the garage was the only item that was voted on and passed in June of 2020. Meanwhile, another set of plans called to construct a new two family structure within the district after the single lot was subdivided into two, then three. Review of both projects carried on for several months.

The initial design for the cottage would have moved it closer to the street and added a modern addition to the east. A car bay would have been located behind the house, with a driveway that wrapped around the west side. This design was not approved, and we believe the reasoning was that moving the house changed the character of the lot too much. The cottage is set back from the street in what feels more like a suburban setting, with ample landscaping between it and the street. Moving it forward changes that interface with the street greatly. The design of the addition was also not as sympathetic to the design of the cottage, and the two structures felt disconnected.

The double townhouse approval at 6 John Street moved into October of 2020, while the HDC tried to convince the architect for 59 Williams Street that moving the house was unnecessary, and the vacant lot where the garage stands now would be a better location for the modern home addition.

The lot at 59 Williams Street extending to 6 John Street was large and surprisingly undeveloped. It was an upside-down “L“ shape that extended from Williams to John Street in between the 1852 Thomas F. Hoppin House and parking access for homes on Williams Street. It was initially subdivided into two lots, but was then further subdivided into three, allowing for a home to be built facing each street.

In March of 2021 the new design was approved, which kept the cottage in place and even used the existing foundation of the demolished garage as part of the design lines. The HDC created a sub-committee to oversee final construction details. The Providence Preservation Society, which was an active voice during the proceedings, was ultimately pleased with the solution. It would seem that — while long — the HDC review process allowed for the project to improve significantly and provided a venue for concerned neighbors. At this important location in the College Hill National Historic Landmark District, the HDC must ensure that the design enhances its surroundings.

While we at ArtInRuins applaud the HDC’s diligence and effort when a designer/developer wants to redesign an existing part of the district or build new, we question why it seems so easy to demolish many late-19th-century homes within other parts of the district.

Current Events

The cottage and addition were completed around the fall of 2022. It was initially for sale and redevelopment in April of 2019 for $750,000. The completed project sold in December of 2022 for 1.6M. The tax records show the building value jump from $86,000 in 2022 to $616,000 in 2023.


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

59 Williams Street (§7 page 176i) — House, 1875-1895. Victorian Cottage; 1 story; clapboard; gabled roof with bracket cornice; 4 bays wide with bracketed pediments above windows and doorway.


  • 1889 Sanborn Insurance Map, Volume 2, Plate 45 (page 13) — Present on the map, shown as a two story wood frame dwelling, set back from the street, with sheds and an unconnected one and a half story building on the same lot. The “2” could be a mistake as it does not look like a “1” but it also does not look exactly like the rest of the “2”s present on other dwellings.
  • 1920 Sanborn Insurance Map, Volume 2, Plate 23 (page 30) — Buildings in much the same configuration but the main house is now labelled as one story and as “shed.”
  • 1920–1951 Sanborn Insurance Map, Volume 2, Plate 23 (page 30) — The main house is still labelled as “shed” but the wood frame buildings are gone and a one story stone/cinder block building is on the property labelled as “5 stalls.”
  • 1920–1956 Sanborn Insurance Map, Volume 2, Plate 23 (page 24) — The main house is labelled “D” for dwelling (no longer considered a shed) and the garage is labelled “A” (for Automobile?).

In the News

RI’s Celebrated Architect St. Florian Breaking the Code in Fox Point

by Gregory Smith
Will Morgan, Architecture Critic | September 07, 2020 (abridged)

While we respect the writing of Mr. Morgan, we must interject while he labels this location as within the neighborhood of Fox Point, it is actually College Hill as the property sits within the College Hill Historic District.

The process of securing permission to build new housing in the densely filled historic neighborhood of Fox Point demonstrates how discussion and cooperation can lead to a design with integrity that maintains the historic spirit of the setting.

The proposed development on adjoining lots at 6 John and 59 Williams Street has tested residents, developers, preservationists, architects, and the city’s planning and historic district commissions. This is hardly surprising in a neighborhood with sophisticated citizens who fear that any sort of change can lead to a diminishing of hard-won values.

This is not to say here that there is not some unhappiness for all parties concerned. But the outcome will be worth all the angst. It is not, as some critics have suggested, the beginning of the end of the city’s historic character, but rather a sensible and instructive solution to a complex problem.

Last year the surprisingly large undeveloped lot was separated into two parcels. Developer Joseph Furtado proposed a three-story, two-family dwelling on John Street, and also shifting the small Italianate cottage on the Williams Street lot. The idea of even a slight re-location of the late 19th-century house was anathema to the guardians of the historic district.

Preservation-minded neighbors were concerned that moving the Victorian cottage would destroy its picturesque context, mature trees would be lost, and an unfortunate precedent would be set. While the Historic District Commission can make recommendations, it cannot prevent new development, so the Providence Preservation Society (PPS) wisely counseled that everyone should work with the developer and the architect “to ensure the best design possible.”

Fox Point is lucky that the Furtado’s architect for the project is the respected Friedrich St. Florian, called the dean of the profession in Providence. Whether or not one admires St Florian’s work, choosing the retired RISD professor was a brilliant move. St Florian has designed both modern and classical homes on the East Side and is skillful at inserting them into older neighborhoods.

St Florian’s plan for the cottage is to raze the thoroughly non-historic four-car garage, move the cottage closer to the street, and add a wing that would not be visible from Williams Street. St Florian rightly believes that the addition should be modestly contemporary, just as the cottage speaks of its 19th-century heritage.

This solution, while elegant, did not at first mollify critics who felt that moving the cottage would lessen its historical significance. Nevertheless, the city planning department agreed it would be impossible to develop the site meaningfully without moving the cottage a short distance.

Because of concern over the details of the cottage, less attention has been paid to the design of the two townhouses that will be erected on John Street. This is where having an experienced and sensitive architect pays real dividends.

In this proposal, the townhouses each will have approximately 2,500 square feet and they will share a common lobby. Also, each townhome will have its own elevator and service entrance leading to the garages at the rear of the property. The ground floor plans will be open, with two bedrooms and baths on the second floor.

But the most distinctive elements of the 6 John Street houses are the top stories, which feature bedroom suites opening onto outdoor “loggias” with fireplaces. These elevated perches offer splendid views of Narragansett Bay.

This double house will clearly be an addition to the Fox Point townscape, rather than more cheaply constructed multiplex rentals. It is ironic that flimsy new faux-colonial boxes mostly go unchallenged, but anything by an architect who is perceived as “modern” kicks up a storm, with residents demanding some specious traditional paradigm. […]

If this block of John Street is one of the city’s finest, then putting up houses here requires a greater responsibility to the community than just the ability to raise financing. Having the expert knowledge of a good architect is essential if new construction is to enrich the neighborhood and create history for the future.

Captured August 13, 2022 from https://www.golocalprov.com/business/ris-most-celebrated-architect-st-florian-breaking-the-code-in-fox-point-arc