John J. Carr Building

also known as Malcolm Grear Designers

A small one-story industrial building has been home to a design studio for about 50 years but is now awaiting a new owner

About this Property


This sweet little building has been known to a renown graphic design firm, Malcolm Grear Designers, since the late 60s. This small industrial building across from the hulking Davol Square is a little under 4,000 square feet with a full basement and a lofted half of a floor in the rear space. The building and lots include the parking lot to the north.

Malcolm Grear loomed large during their time from 1966 until 2022.1 They designed many timeless logos locally and nationally and were the chosen firm for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. A transplant from Kentucky, Mr. Grear started to teach at RISD in 1960 and established his firm soon after.

The real estate was a smart investment made early in the life of the company. Malcolm Grear Realty was a sibling company which owned the building and the parking lot next door.2 Leasing 40 spaces for other businesses surely helped keep the design business afloat if it ever encountered hard times. We are guessing that this might have helped in the later years, even though the firm was well-known throughout the design community.

The firm survived for six years after the passing of Mr. Grear at the helm of his son Joel, also a designer. It is our guess, and only a guess, that Joel was ready to retire and leave the company and building behind.


The building is a single story red brick industrial building with a flat roof, simple cornice, rectangular fenestration, and a stepped parapet on the eastern elevation. A loading dock still exists on the armpit of the “L” shape the building creates on the southern side. Another loading dock has been bricked up on that same side. Five granite steps are at the entrance, leading into a square, well-lit room formerly used as a meeting space. The work area occupies the rest of the building and was lofted for additional office area and floor space. A pyramidal skylight punctures the center of the work space.

Two front windows still have an eight by three lite transom-style window above a single plate glass window. Ornamentation includes a granite beltcourse below the roofline and a course of vertical bricks at the floor line on the façade.

#Current Events

The building is currently for sale. Lots included are 303-306 and 309.


Not part of the Jewelry District Historic District, not part of the PPS/AIA Industrial Commercial Buildings Survey (ICBS) — very little formal history.

The first company to be documented as located here when the building was constructed was the John J. Carr company. The Providence House Directory and Family Address Book, 1925-1926, has a result for this company name and lists them as “baker’s supplies” at 391 Eddy Street.3 At 261 Eddy “Carr John J.” is also listed as “soft drinks,” raising the possibility that Mr. Carr was an entrepreneur who owned both businesses. In the 1923–1924 directory, Carr John J. & Sons bakers supplies is listed at 19 Pine Street.4


From what we can tell, the address for this block has not changed since 1889.

  • 1889–1900 Sanborn Insurance Map, Volume 1, Plate 13 (page 22) — In the top right corner is the block bounded by Eddy to the east, Point to the south, Richmond to the west, and South Sts to the north. On the Eddy street side at number 391–393 is a two-story wooden dwelling (yellow, marked with a 2 and a D) with a two story outbuilding to the west. This seems to be a different building completely from the present one.
  • 1920–1921 Sanborn Insurance Map, Volume 1, Plate 13 (page 24) — The block is now in the lower right of the map, but the dwelling at 391–393 remains at the same footprint with the same markings.
  • 1926 G.M. Hopkins Insurance Map, Plate 2 — In the lower right section of the map, the footprint at 391–393 has changed. A brick (pink) “L” shaped building is in place and labelled “John J. Carr & Sons.” “R. Carr” is marked as the owner and the lot size looks to be 3,325 square feet.
  • 1937 G.M. Hopkins Insurance Map, Plate 2 — Much the same as previous map.
  • 1920–1951 Sanborn Insurance Map, Volume 1, Plate 13 (page 24) — The block is in the lower right and many of the earlier buildings have been replaced. The building at 391–393 is one story (marked 1B for one-story on raised basement, not to be confused with what we think is 18’ frontage) and labelled “Caterer.”

#In the News

Malcolm Grear, 1931-2016

by Providence Journal staff
Providence Journal | February 16, 2016

Effective graphic design can capture the eye and convey a message in a split second. Malcolm Grear, who died last month at 84, was a rare master of such work, turning out vibrant logos and handsome signage in a career that spanned decades.

Though based in Providence, he was nationally known. His firm, Malcolm Grear Designers, generated visual signatures for a vast array of corporations, universities and cultural institutions. Among the many Grear logos recognizable to area residents are those for Lifespan and the Veterans Memorial Auditorium. For many years, The Providence Journal stamped its presence with an intertwined P and J in bright red, another Grear design.

James Malcolm Grear was born in Wayne County, Ky., and served four years as a metal smith in the U.S. Navy. He attended the Art Academy of Cincinnati, and joined the faculty of the Rhode Island School of Design in 1960. He established his design firm the same year.

Malcolm Grear Designers surmounted intense competition to win work developing the “look of the games” for the 1996 summer Olympics, in Atlanta. The pictograms designating each sport, the medals, and a commemorative poster were all Grear designs. Other clients over the years were the Presbyterian Church USA, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Metropolitan Opera and Sonesta International Hotels.

Mr. Grear eschewed computers and relied heavily on drawing to work out his ideas. “Basically, that’s how I think,” he noted. Over nearly four decades of teaching, his clean lines and conceptual punch influenced hosts of students, making graphic design one of RISD’s more popular majors. His textbook, “Inside Outside: From the Basics to the Practice of Design,” was published in the 1990s, and updated in 2006.

Mr. Grear’s work appeared in numerous exhibitions, including shows at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum, in New York. Among his many honors was the Claiborne Pell Award for Excellence in the Arts. In 2010, he was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame.

Friends and colleagues recall a man with a great sense of humor, whose ease around others conveyed the same kind of approachability as his art. Graphic design will continue to reinvent itself, as it always has done, but traces of Malcolm Grear’s influence will be visible for years to come.

“Malcolm Grear, 1931-2016.” Providence Journal (RI), sec. RI Opinion, 16 Feb. 2016, p. 14. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 13 Nov. 2023.

  1. Malcolm Grear Designers filed Articles of Dissolution 29 Sep 2022. They were incorporated 20 Sep 1966. Learned from “Filings for MALCOLM GREAR DESIGNERS, INC. (Rhode Island (US)).”, captured 13 November 20223 from 

  2. Malcolm Grear Realty filed Articles of Dissolution 7 Aug 2023. They were incorporated 28 Mar 1968. Learned from “Filings for MALCOLM GREAR REALTY, INC. (Rhode Island (US)).”, captured 13 November 20223 from 

  3. “The Providence House Directory and Family Address Book, 1925-1926.” Providence, RI Digital Archives via Preservica, page 308. Captured 13 November 2023 from 

  4. “The Providence House Directory and Family Address Book, 1923-1924.” Providence, RI Digital Archives via Preservica, page 533. Captured 13 November 2023 from