Copley Chambers

also known as Milner Hotel, Copley Plaza Hotel, Continental Hotel

This former hotel has sat vacant and underused for 20 years or more and only recently is being renovated

About this Property

#Last Tenant

The Continental and Tina’s Caribbean Restaurants seem to have been the last active tenants in this former office building slash boarding house turned hotel. The hotel portion (floors 2 through 4) was closed up in 1975. The owners at the time, a couple who ran the Continental Diner, could not afford the upkeep and upgrades needed to keep the building’s fire safety systems operational.

Tina’s Caribbean seems to have closed around 2003-2004. The building has been vacant ever since.

#Current Events

There is interest to list the property on the National Register and qualify for historic tax credits for its rehabilitation. There is a good chance it may not make the grade, however, since most of the interior is so far gone. Only 13 of the original doors remain (20%) along with 60% of the wall plaster, 10% of the ceiling plaster, and 50% of the wood trim.

#History

From the “Industrial Sites and Commercial Buildings Survey (ICBS)” by PPS and the AIA, 2001-2002, hosted by ProvPlan.org (now defunct)

This four-story brick building has a flat roof with a slight parapet and a five-bay façade. A four-story, rectangular ell projects from the rear elevation of the main block and features exterior fire escapes at each floor. The building’s first floor features modem storefronts with metal-and-glass doors and fixed sash. The building is embellished with brick corbelling at its top and sides, projecting piers between each bay, and a capped parapet. The building’s primary entrance centrally located and set within a wide recessed opening. Fenestration consists of paired 6/1 sash set within segmental-arch openings on the fa9ade and rectangular openings on the side elevations of the main block. Fenestration on the rear ell consists mostly of boarded up openings.

The Copley Chambers building at 206 Broad Street was constructed ca. 1914 on the site of a small wood building that stood here in 1908. It was utilized as a hotel and restaurant from 1914 to 1943 by Copley Chambers. Ownership changed resulting in a name change to Milner Hotel in 1945 but the building’s use remained the same. According to a 1950 map, it housed the Milner Hotel and the Copley Restaurant. By 1955 the hotel shared occupancy with Nathan’s Castle Restaurant. The Copley Plaza Hotel name was re-instated when Joseph Paolino purchased the property around the year 1960. A score of businesses took residence in the building after the Copley Plaza Hotel closed for a second time, including restaurants, florists, and other hotels. The 1970 directory lists the Continental Hotel and Restaurant at this address. The rooms were even rented out as apartments. The bottom floor, where the storefronts are located, is currently occupied by Beeper Net Paging, High Tone Records, Tina’s Caribbean Restaurant, and The Continental Restaurant.

#In the News

A South Providence success story: Arthur, Thomai and Continental diner

by Sharon Griffin
Providence Journal | May 18, 1987 (abridged)

Otis, a burly man, sits at a booth at the Continental diner eating hash browns, sausage and eggs.

“I’ve been coming here at least 10 years,” Otis declares, proudly. “I like the atmosphere.”

Leo — everyone is on a first-name basis at the Continental — gets up from a plastic-covered stool and heads for the cash register but stops to talk to owner Arthur Petropoulos and his wife, Thomai.

“Ethel, you have a good Mother’s Day?” asks Leo, a gritty man covered with machine oil and grease.

“Yes, very good,” says Mrs. Petropoulos. (She says folks at the diner call her Ethel because they can’t pronounce Thomai).

“I always respect the lady,” says Leo. “They used to save my supper for me every night. Sometimes I’d get short of money. They’d let me eat… for three days.”

Mrs. Petropoulos nods in agreement. Petropoulos smiles.

From the outside, the Continental diner looks like a derelict, a bum taking up space on Broad Street.

But patrons say this tacky but quaint diner is like home. A few boast that they’ve been eating there for 20 or more years.

Tommy Ferlingere, a portly dark-complexioned Italian, says that the diner is a “a family thing,” and that he and some other longtime customers are part of the family.

“Ethel had little Peter in her arms when I first knew her,” recalled Tommy, who has lived at the nearby YMCA for 28 years. Little Peter is now 30 and a doctor at Miriam Hospital. […]

Petropoulos, 63, came to Providence from Greece in 1951 with $10 in his pocket.

He went to work at his uncle’s Broad Street diner. He says he worked 12-hour days and made $27 a week.

In 1953, Petropoulos bought the business and his uncle retired.

After a few years, Petropoulos began looking for a bigger place. So in 1960 he bought the hotel across the street from the diner.

He named it the Continental Hotel and opened a diner on the first floor.

Erected in 1914, the hotel building had originally housed doctors’ offices. The second owner, however, converted it to a hotel.

It was never a “high-class hotel,” said Petropoulos. It was a “secondhand place.”

But respectable people lived there, some for 40 years or more. They recalled that a doctor, a pharmacist and a teacher and her husband lived there. The four-story hotel has 60 rooms, some with showers, others with only sinks.

The diner used to stay open 24 hours. In fact, it began closing at 7 p.m. only after Petropoulos had a heart attack in 1980.

A customer yells from the back of the diner that it also was the only place that opened on Sundays.

The hotel started to go downhill in the late 1960s or early 1970s. It was cited for one code violation after another.

City code enforcers said the building needed a sprinkler system, a second stairway and emergency lighting, among other things. In an 18-month period between 1974 and 1975, it had a dozen fires.

The couple was finally forced to close the hotel in 1975.

Petropoulos said he couldn’t afford to make the repairs. He was paying for college.

His son’s medical school bills at Boston University amounted to $25,000 a year. “We had choices to make,” his wife said, “send son to school or run the hotel.”

The Petropouloses also have a daughter, Christine, who as a young girl worked in the diner with her parents.

Petropoulos says his son wants to reopen the hotel. They estimate it will cost about $500,000 to do the job.

If the hotel reopens, Petropoulos says, it would fill up within 24 hours because there is such a dire need for housing. He sees lots of homeless people walking through the doors of the diner, people who sleep in cars and in alleys.

In Providence, the number of homeless families requesting emergency shelter increased by 70 percent in the last year, according to a study released this month by the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Shelter Services Inc., a group of social workers and community activists, had considered buying the hotel and converting it to 50 rooms for needy, single adults.

But the group decided to look for another site. […]

The diner also doubles as a variety store. The shelves are lined with sodas, gum, cigarettes, hankerchiefs, Tylenol, Crisco, canned peaches, tape.

The people are so friendly that it’s like a place out of Mayberry, that ficticious North Carolina town made popular as the setting of the Andy Griffith Show on television.

Everett “Shoemaker” Sherman has been a cook at the diner off and on for 27 years. A second cook, known only as Vinnie, has been with Petropouloses since he came from Europe.

Petropoulos still decides the specials of the day: Chicken soup, $1.25; hamburger steak dinner, $3.25.

The standard menu stretches along a wall behind the front counter: EggMcArthur, $1.60; ham and cheese omelette, $2.45…

“I wouldn’t change anything since I came here from the old country,” said Mrs. Petropoulos. “I wouldn’t change anything, not business, not marriage… I just would work a little less.”

But on second thought, she said: “If you want to succeed at anything you got to work hard, long hours. And we both work hard.”

Frank, another customer, straddles a stool at the counter.

“I figure I’ve been coming a good 20 years or better.”

“We’d be lost without them,” said Frank, dressed in a black leather jacket and black trousers. “Being here is like being home.”

“Yeah,” Shoemaker hollers from the kitchen, “once we get ‘em in here, we can’t get rid of them.”

GRIFFIN, SHARON. “A South Providence success story: Arthur, Thomai and Continental diner.” Providence Journal (RI), CITY ed., sec. NEWS, 18 May 1987, pp. C-01. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/15252B6738DE3A40. Accessed 22 Jan. 2022.