The Arcade

This over 190 year old structure survived 170 years as an indoor mall but now is a collection of retail and micro-loft styles residential condos

About this Property

Redevelopment Timeline

January 15, 1828
Construction of the Arcade was completed and it opens to the public. The original designs were modified greatly — it was planned with a two story interior structure, but the economic outlook at the time was rosier than originally thought so a third was added. The structure was also going to be an interior cul de sac, with the Weybosset Street end sealed. Westminster Street was more of a business road than Weybossett at the time, which was more of a cow path. Luckily for Weybosset Street and the Arcade, it was turned into a thoroughfare.1
The original developer Cyrus Butler’s heirs retained ownership of the Arcade until this year. Threatened with demolition to make way for an office building, it was purchased by the Rhode Island Association for the Blind who considered it an investment for it rental income. The building underwent its first round of structural renewal, including minor upgrades to shop fronts, window glazing, and gates to protect the interior shops at night.2
A write up for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) was completed with photos for the Library of Congress. The Rhode Island Association for the Blind was still listed as owners. Prepared by Osmund R. Overby, architect.
The National Register nomination for was completed for consideration by Antoinette Downing and stamped by the Department of the Interior as “received” in 1971.
The building is extensively renovated again by architects Irving B. Haynes and Associates and Gilbane Properties. The redevelopment for more modern indoor shopping and retail/office space gave the building a new life. It experienced a boom that would carry it into the early 2000s.3
The Arcade becomes a National Trust Honor Award winner for outstanding achievements in preservation. Cited in the national award were the Arcade Co., Gilbane Building Co., Irving Haynes and Associates, the Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission and the city of Providence. Developers spent $3 million to refurbish the building.4 While this is great news, tenants in the Arcade and leasing at the Arcade generally is suffering. 87 percent of the Arcade building is leased, which is fantastic, but businesses have a hard time being profitable. Downtown after 5pm is queit, and most shoppers or restaurant goers are hesitant to go downtown after dark. Retail in general is facing hard times, with the Outlet companies recently closed. The Arcade as a destination is small, with one tenant saying “You can shop the whole Arcade in a half hour.”5
Gilbane continues to have a hard time keeping tenants in the building. The Arcade lost $291,000 in 1988 with a vacancy rate of between 20 and 30 percent. “There is not much we can do with it. We can’t take it down without creating a riot,” Gilbane said. While the Arcade is assessed for $2.3 million, Gilbane said its value should be pegged closer to $1.5 or $1.6 million.6
The Rhode Island Association for the Blind, now known as INSIGHT, sold the building to Johnson & Wales University last winter (1994). J&W officials say the Arcade will remain a commercial emporium, although students will manage Gladding’s, which will move onto the second floor this fall.7 J&W spent about $70,000 repairing the roof, painting bathrooms, washing windows and beefing up security. The college even banned smoking in the mall. But still, by November, nearly 40 percent of the mall is empty. Part of the problem was the downtown exodus of big companies such as Amica Insurance Co. and Outlet Communications. As a result, many downtown retail centers were struggling.8
The Arcade cuts back its hours because business is slow in the evening and on Saturday mornings, citing a decline in traffic from downtown workers and visitors to the city. David Roser, property manager, says the new Providence Place Mall “has definitely hurt us.”9
After nearly a decade of owning the Arcade, Johnson & Wales decides the shopping center is too costly to run. Merlin A. De Conti Jr., the university’s senior vice president of facilities management, said the Arcade loses about $200,000 a year for security and maintenance. The Rhode Island Association for the Blind, now known as INSIGHT, sold the three-floor building but retained ownership of the land. It was unclear whether the new buyer, 130 Westminster Street Associates, is also the landowner.10
The property is acquired by Granoff Associates. They had a vision to find a single tenant to use the building, and therefore, started to push out the remaining businesses. They gave tenants, some who had been there for more than 20 years, 30 days to vacate. Granoff planned to spend $8 million on renovations. Their plans hinged on a new high rise development called the One Ten, which stalled in late 2008. The property sat vacant for a time while the real estate market slowly came back from the recession.11 By December, after a lengthened eviction period for tenants, the Arcade closes and the plans to renovate are shelved because of economic uncertainty.12
May 2011
The Arcade is placed on the Preservation Society’s Ten Most Endangered list, after being vacant for three years.13
January 2012
Evan Granoff revealed a $7-million renovation plan to convert the two upper floors of the Arcade into 48 micro-lofts and 14 renovated commercial spaces on the ground floor. Most of these apartments will be less than 270 square feet and include a private bath, small kitchen, built-in bed and seating. Ten others will be larger, from 500 to more than 800 square feet, with two or three bedrooms.14
September and November 2014
Real estate holding company 113 Westminster St. Associates wins a Rhody Project Award for the conversion and modernization of the Arcade.15 The Providence Preservation Society awarded the project a Rehabilitation Award as well.16
January 2020
The Arcade units will switch from rental to condo after the restrictions on tax credits have expired. Tenants had 60 days to convert their leases to mortgages.17

Current Events

The Arcade is “micro-loft” condominiums on its upper two levels and small business retail/restaurant space on its first floor.


About the monolithic granite columns, prepared by Marc Berman

At each end of the Arcade (at 130 Westminster St. and 65 Weybosset St.) is a portico, supported by six ionic columns. The column shafts are three feet in diameter and more than twenty feet high.

Teams of oxen dragged each column five miles from the Bare Ledge Quarry in Johnston, RI (near the interchange of I-295 and State Route 44) to Providence, on a huge cart constructed especially for this purpose. Joseph Olney supervised the quarrying and carving of the granite columns. His son, Joseph Jr., left his mark on the Arcade as well. One of the columns had a small defect in the stone, which was filled with a soapstone plug — carved, initialed, and dated by him. At the time of their erection, the Arcade’s columns were the largest monoliths in the country.

From the National Register nomination form for the Downtown Providence Historic District, prepared by William McKenzie Woodward, Principal Historic Preservation Planner, 1984

130 Westminster The Arcade (1828, 1980): Russell Warren and James C. Bucklin, architects; Irving B. Haynes & Associates, architects for the re-modeling. 3-story granite structure with gable roof; skylight extending the length of the building. Weybosset facade — six Ionic columns in antis with full entablature and stepped parapet above. Westminster facade — six Ionic columns in antis with full entablature and pediment above. Original interior of three floors of shops with galleries the length of the building at each level.

Built by Cyrus Butler and the Arcade Realty Company, the Arcade was the first major commercial venture on the west side of the Providence River. Since its opening, it has housed small retail enterprises and offices. In 1980, the building underwent substantial rehabilitation to improve its economic vitality. Gilbane Company, a major Providence-based building firm, was the developer. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976, it is one of the finest Greek Revival monuments in this country and has special note as a well preserved and major commercial building; it has no peer in the nation.

From its individual National Register nomination form, prepared by Antoinette Forrester Downing, 1970

[…] Built throughout of local granite, with the visible walls of smooth~faced regular coursed ashlar, it is a long (216 feet) roofed building with short lateral wings near its centre and a massive hexastyle portico at each end. The granite Ionic columns of the porticoes are monolithic; the scale is monumental. (These columns, brought from Bare Ledge Quarry in Johnston, Rhode Island, remained the largest monolithic shafts in this country, until those of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York, well on in this century.)

The Westminster Street (north) front, an Ionic pedimented portico was designed by James Bucklin for Cyrus Butler, the original entrepreneur. Russell Warren, who designed the Weybosset Street was engaged by The Arcade Realty Company. For this front, Warren employed an unpedimented portico with a panelled attic parapet — a scheme he used in variant forms for several of his later buildings.

The interior space, three storeys high, has lengthwise banks of shops facing each other; the upper levels are reached by twin flights of stairs at each end. The stairs connect with galleries running across the end of the building and along its sides, in front of the ranges of shops. These galleries, enclosed by handsome, original cast iron railings, are in turn connected (at second-floor level only by a central cross-gallery or bridge. […]

  1. GRAY, CHANNING. “Architects to ‘redraw’ Arcade’s facades.” Providence Journal (RI), ALL ed., sec. WEEKEND, 24 Sept. 1982, pp. W-01. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 27 Nov. 2021. 

  2. From the National Register nomination form 

  3. From a history prepared by Marc Berman, circa 2009 

  4. “Providence Arcade wins national award.” Providence Journal (RI), ALL ed., sec. NEWS, 8 May 1982, pp. A-05. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 27 Nov. 2021. 

  5. MORGAN, GWYNNE. “Arcade still suffers from growing pains.” Providence Journal (RI), ALL ed., sec. BUSINESS, 26 Sept. 1982, pp. F-01. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 27 Nov. 2021. 

  6. MacKAY, SCOTT. “Fleet and Gilbane seek lower taxes on office buildings Dispute assessments imposed as result of city revaluation.” Providence Journal (RI), CITY FINAL ed., sec. NEWS, 30 Aug. 1989, pp. D-01. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 27 Nov. 2021. 

  7. BRUSSAT, DAVID. “Reviving the ‘temple to trade’.” Providence Journal (RI), ALL ed., sec. EDITORIAL, 3 Aug. 1995, pp. B-07. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 27 Nov. 2021. 

  8. DAVIS, PAUL. “The Arcade has obstacles to overcome *Johnson & Wales University, the 19th-century mall’s new owners, are making improvements. But, some tenants say, the school doesn’t understand retailing…” Providence Journal (RI), ALL ed., sec. NEWS, 12 Nov. 1995, pp. B-01. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 27 Nov. 2021. 

  9. TOOHER, NORA LOCKWOOD. “Downcity’s Downturn.” Providence Journal (RI), All ed., sec. Business, 10 Sept. 2000, pp. F-01. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 27 Nov. 2021. 

  10. GRIMALDI, PAUL. “DOWNTOWN LANDMARK TO CHANGE HANDS - Giving it the old college try.” Providence Journal (RI), All ed., sec. Business, 24 June 2004, pp. E-01. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 27 Nov. 2021. 

  11. Barbarisi, Daniel. “Tenants have 30 days to leave Arcade.” Providence Journal (RI), All ed., sec. News, 30 May 2008, pp. A-01. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 27 Nov. 2021. 

  12. Marcelo, Philip. “The Arcade closes, its future uncertain.” Providence Journal (RI), All ed., sec. Business, 2 Dec. 2008, pp. D-01. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 27 Nov. 2021. 

  13. SICLEN, BILL VAN. “PROVIDENCE — Swath of downtown on ‘Endangered Properties’ list.” Providence Journal (RI), 1 ed., sec. projoRhodeIsland, 6 May 2011, p. A3. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 27 Nov. 2021. 

  14. PINA, ALISHA A.. “PROVIDENCE — New plan for rebirth of Arcade.” Providence Journal (RI), 1 ed., sec. projoRhodeIsland, 26 Jan. 2012, p. A1. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 27 Nov. 2021. 

  15. SICLEN, BILL VAN. “rhody awards | Projects, people win preservation awards.” Providence Journal (RI), 1 ed., sec. News, 18 Sept. 2014, p. MAIN_02. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 27 Nov. 2021. 

  16. “preservation awards | Foundry developer among honorees.” Providence Journal (RI), 1 ed., sec. News, 7 Nov. 2014, p. MAIN_08. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 27 Nov. 2021. 

  17. List, Madeleine. “Providence’s Arcade switching to condos.” Providence Journal (RI), sec. RI News, 4 Jan. 2020, p. A2. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 27 Nov. 2021.