Block bounded by Brook, Meeting, and Cushing Streets

Eight houses allowed to decay as student housing and easily demolished because of a lack of visual maintenance

About this Property

Reason for Demolition

In 2013, there was a bit of a ruckus when a private developer wanted to build student housing on the next block which required the demolition of nine late 19th-century houses. The College Hill Neighborhood Association and the Providence Preservation Society, among others, pressed the City Planning Commission to deny the request for demolition. Simply because a land owner stopped maintaining their properties was no reason to tear them down. Often, that is exactly what they want to do. Instead, the owner should be cajoled and convinced to maintain their properties — not rewarded with a demolition permit.

Alas, the promise of a private developer creating new, shiny student housing that would keep the property on the City’s tax role was enough for the council and demolition was granted.

Here, two years later, the owner of seven more homes that were lightly maintained but basically allowed to decay as students abused them were seeking demolition. This time, a private owner sold the properties to Brown University and the university wanted only to raze them for a parking lot.

A parking lot.

A parking lot that would “serve the needs of the Thayer Street commercial district” and not “as a permit parking lot for Brown faculty, staff or students.” How nice of them, how supportive of the community and shoppers of Thayer Street.

Four years later, Brown University broke ground on a new student center that would encompass the entire plot. With this, and with the way their most recent construction project further down on Brook Street played out, Brown acts with much impunity in this town. Brown has shown that it can get anything it wants if it tells us first what we want to hear.

The loss of these properties is part of our essay about the erosion of the College Hill Historic District.

Current Events

The lot where these houses were cleared was parking for a few years — 242 Meeting Street remained in place. In 2020 Brown started construction on a new Wellness Center & Residence Hall which opened in 2021, demolishing 242 in the process.

History

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

434 Brook Street — House, 1875-95. 2-1/2 stories; end gable; clapboard; entrance on south under columned porch; oriel at southeast corner; bay on northeast; overhanging gable end; identical to #444.

436 Brook Street — No description. Twin house with #442.

442 Brook Street — No description. Twin house with #436.

444 Brook Street — House, 1875-95. 2-1/2 stories; end gable; clapboard; entrance on south under columned porch; oriel at southeast corner; bay on northeast; overhanging gable end; identical to #434.

450 Brook Street — No description.

167 Cushing Street — c.1900. 2-1/2 stories; hip; clapboard and shingle; square block with entrance under recessed porch; bay on front; dormer.

169 Cushing Street — c.1890. 2-1/2 stories; flank gable; shingle; unusual small building set in middle of block; entrance on north end with pergola on east side; sweeping roof with shed dormers breaking through eaves; casement in gable end.

242 Meeting Street — Before 1857. 1-1/2 stories; end gable; siding; cottage with turned post porch across front; projecting cross gable on east. (A.I.R: Very much altered from its historic state in more recent years)

In the News

Brown seeks to raze buildings for parking lot — Seven multifamily houses near Thayer Street described as ‘unsightly’

by Patrick Anderson
Providence Journal | January 14, 2016

Brown University intends to flatten half of a city block near Thayer Street in the College Hill neighborhood to create a commercial parking lot.

In an amendment to the school’s master plan filed with the Providence Planning Department, Brown officials wrote they want to raze seven multifamily houses that the school owns between Cushing Street, Meeting Street and Brook Street. The amendment document calls the two-unit buildings “unsightly.”

Brown plans to have a third party manage the proposed parking lot to “serve the needs of the Thayer Street commercial district.” The lot will not be used “as a permit parking lot for Brown faculty, staff or students,” Brown wrote.

In the long term, Brown hopes to redevelop the property for academic or residential use, but has no specific plans to do so.

The number of spaces planned for the new lot is not included in the amendment document but appears to be around 80 spaces, based on a rendering.

Brown officials did not answer requests for comment on the parking lot plan.

To use the land as a commercial parking lot, Brown will need a special permit from the Providence Zoning Board of Review.

The site of the apartment houses slated for demolition, which was once slated for a hotel, is within the College Hill National and State Historic Register District, but not a local historic district in which city permission would have to be granted to tear something down.

The city must approve the change to Brown’s master plan and a hearing on the matter is scheduled before the City Plan Commission on Tuesday.

Although master plan amendments have often been considered formalities, late last year the City Plan Commission rejected Rhode Island Hospital’s plan to demolish its historic Southwest Pavilion.

The property tax status of the seven properties slated for demolition, which tax-exempt Brown bought in July 2014, was unclear Wednesday.

City assessor’s records still show the parcels belonging to former owner Edward F. Bishop. They are: Nos. 434, 436, 442, 444 and 450 Brook St. and 167 and 169 Cushing St.

Neither Brown nor city officials Wednesday could be reached Wednesday on whether the properties were subject to a payment in lieu of taxes.

Two years ago nine houses were demolished a block away to make way for a student 95-unit student apartment building.

Brown’s demolition plans are already drawing fire from the Providence Preservation Society.

“We oppose any plan for demolition that does not have anything better replacing it, and in this case we did not consider a parking lot an improvement,” Runyon said.

Anderson, Patrick. “providence Brown seeks to raze buildings for parking lot — Seven multifamily houses near Thayer Street described as ‘unsightly’.” Providence Journal (RI), sec. RI News, 14 Jan. 2016, p. 4. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/15A64C96CA3E40E0. Accessed 25 Jan. 2022.