Columbia Building

also known as The On Leong Chinese Merchants Association

A handsomely-detailed yellow brick commercial building with an active bar on the first floor and currently empty upper floors

About this Property

Last Tenant

The On Leong Merchants Association was an owner from roughly 19771 until 2006, when the association sold to new owners Tony & Tina Siravo.2 The On Leong association had its start in 1893 in Manhattan, New York, and this local association was likely related. Their main headquarters was here until 2002.3

The building’s history with the On Leong Association makes it an important part of Providence’s Chinese-American history. The Association was forced to move from its original location near Empire Street after the City decided to widen the street and demolish all of the original Chinatown. For more information, please visit:

Not much can be found about the building from its early days as a Columbia Bicycle retail location, the first american bicycle manufacturer. Colonel Albert Pope founded the bicycle industry in the United States starting in 1877. By 1897, the Pope Manufacturing Co. held over 50 patents. The Columbia Manufacturing facility was opened in nearby Westfield, Massachusetts, producing bicycles and motorbikes. By 1900, Columbia was the largest bicycle manufacturer in the world.4

In the late 1890’s, Pope Manufacturing started producing automobiles. Two gasoline-powered models were offered at this location as well as an electrical one called the Waverly. The early advertisements we have snippets of did not mention the specifics, but with its price of $850, it must have been a model described by a Wikipedia entry:

The 1904 Pope-Waverley Road Wagon was a smaller wagon model. It could seat 2 passengers with an open box at the rear for cargo and sold for US$850. The single electric motor was situated at the rear of the car and produced 3 hp (2.2 kW). The car used a 24-cell battery and could travel at 5 or 15 mph (8.0 or 24.1 km/h).

Current Events

New owners are exploring ways to revitalize the upper floors of the building. We hope to learn more as the work progresses.


Not much turned up in the Providence Journal Archives. We searched for all addresses (17 through 25 Snow Street) as well as “Alleycat” and “Columbia Building.” We only found a few mentions:

In 1997, a bar called Sgt. Peppers Pub was shut down for two months because of loitering and other problems; manager Ron Pratt and owner Deborah Marandola. The bar was on the ground floor of the Columbia Building, which has apartments on the second and third floors. Snow Book Store, at 25 Snow St., was next door to the bar.5 It was listed as an “adult” book store.6

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

Columbia Building (1897): Fred E. Field, architect. 4-story brick structure with mid-20th-century storefronts, 4-bay articulation of second and third stories with 2-story bay windows; four small rectangular windows over each bay window on fourth story; boxed cornice with elaborate frieze and balustrade. The Columbia Building continues in original use, as a commercial block. It is one of the many fine vernacular commercial buildings erected downtown around the turn-of-the-century.

From “Downtown Providence: Statewide Historical Preservation Report P-P-5,” prepared by the RIHPHC, May 1981

Columbia Building 1897: Frederick E. Field, architect. A characteristic and handsome 4-story, brick commercial block with copper trim, mid-2Oth-century storefronts, 4-bay articulation of the 2nd and 3rd stories with 2-story bay windows, a boxed cornice with elaborate frieze and balustrade, and a flat roof. The Columbia Building continues in its original use as a commercial block. Since the early 1970s, it has housed the On Leong Chinese Merchants Association.

  1. “Exploring Providence’s historic Chinatown.” Brown Daily Herald; Jacob Smollen, Kathy Wang, Julia Vaz and Alex Nadirashvili. 

  2. “REAL ESTATE TRANSACTIONS - (2 0F 3).” Providence Journal (RI), All ed., sec. projo HOMES, 26 Aug. 2006, pp. E-05. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 21 Apr. 2024. 

  3. Andrade, Kevin. “Neither the chill nor the lack of free parking downtown coul.” Providence Journal (RI), sec. RI News, 15 Apr. 2018, p. F6. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 21 Apr. 2024. 

  4. “Columbia History at a Glance.” Columbia Bicycles website. Accessed 21 Apr. 2024. 

  5. SMITH, GREGORY. “License board shuts down downtown bar for 2 months | The liquor license of Sgt. Peppers Pub is suspended because of alleged loitering and drug sales outside.” Providence Journal (RI), METRO ed., sec. NEWS, 16 Apr. 1997, pp. C-01. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 21 Apr. 2024. 

  6. “Here’s what you’ll find downtown.“ Providence Journal (RI), ALL ed., sec. SPORTS, 30 Mar. 1995, pp. H-04. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 21 Apr. 2024.