Little Nemo Building

also known as Brier Manufacturing Company, Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School

This former jewelry manufacturing building was converted to office use in the late 1970s and is now the Brown Medical School

About this Property


Under the watch and planning efforts of Michael J. McCormick, Vice President for Planning, Design and Construction, four historic structures were renovated for new University space rather than build new between 2008 and 2011. Rhode Island Hall, the former Metcalf Laboratories, and Faunce House on campus were renovated while the Little Nemo building was converted to the new medical school.1 Previously, in 2003, the nearby Doran-Speidal building (1912) was converted to Brown’s Laboratory for Molecular Medicine.2

The idea to reuse rather than build new was part of the university’s 2003 strategic framework which called for “consolidating the core” by making “adaptive reuse of existing historic buildings.” It was smart, sensitive to existing streetscapes, and more economically sustainable at a time when the rest of the economy was in a downturn. Renovating Metcalf Laboratories and the Little Nemo buildings cost $87 million when new construction would have cost $134 million.3

On the flipside of reuse, we have recently reported on new construction from Brown which required the demolition of historic properties — these were the Brook Street Residence Halls and the interim parking lot turned Wellness Center & Residence Hall. On the other hand, there have been cases where Brown went to great lengths to move historic structures, like the Peter Green (Lippitt Guild) House. And then there is their new construction, which runs from buildings that try to blend in to ones that clearly do not.

Brown and their constant need to expand is just a mixed bag — and perhaps it always will be. Positive for all they attract to the city in the way of responsible and sensitive redevelopment, the students and parents who spend a lot of money here, and the myriad of professional staff who work in all the various buildings. Negative for the historic homes and properties that are not reused, for their refusal at times to listen to the concerns of the neighborhood, and for the removal of properties from the tax roles even though there have been concessions made to pay property taxes.

Current Events

The building is in use as the Warren Alpert Medical School. Its presence has brought additional street life to area, and it could be argued, Brown’s commitment to the Jewelry District has helped fuel the interest of other developers to invest in construction on former I-195 parcels.


From Jackson Jewels, a history of Jewelry Companies

The Depression of the 1930s stimulated the Providence jewelry industry, as precious jewelry craftsmen applied their skills to the design of cheaper, mass-produced jewelry, which raised the production of standards of costume jewelry and took on the appearance of expensive jewelry. Some of their jewelry included Art Deco designs that had convex oval shapes that were produced in the 1930s having geometric texture openwork in gilded brass, bronze tone, gold tone, silver tone or pop metal bases that were embedded with clear and colored rhinestones and colorful glass stones.

The Nemo jewelry of the 1940s and 1950s was of high quality with jewelry designs including patriotic military pins (saber, branch of service hat and gloves), U.S. flags, and U.S. eagles paste set with clear and colored rhinestones and molded colored glass stones of red, white and blue in the enameled base metal.

The […] Company […] enjoyed success as a syndicate plant manufacturing costume jewelry designed into necklaces, brooches, pins, bracelets, dress and fur clips, charm bracelets and charms, tiaras, hairclips of gold plated, silver plated, bronze tone, gilded brass and pot metal bases with hand faceted clear and colorful rhinestones, and colored glass stones to catch light and glitter. Mark of Brier Manufacturing Co. that manufactured Little Nemo jewelry: “LN”, “LN25”, “LN50”, “LITTLE NEMO” inside the shape of a ring, “NEMO GOLD SEAL QUALITY LN/25”, “L/N”, “LN” inside a flattened diamond shape, “VENUS” in 1958, and “NEMO” in block letters 1955. The Brier Manufacturing Co. and designs of “Little Nemo” jewelry ceased operations in 1978.

Captured around 2010 from, recaptured January 29, 2022 from

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

Designed by architect Frank S. Perry, it is a three-story, flat-roof, reinforced concrete building with Art Deco style detailing. The building features curtain walls arranged in piers and spandrels with bands of windows with narrow Roman brick panels underneath. Embellishments to the building include a rounded comer at Ship and Richmond streets, lozenge and geometric panels set within parapets, and concrete piers capped with arrow-shaped panels. The building’s primary entrance is recessed on the Richmond Street side and is comprised of metal-and-glass doors. Rectangular windows are set in groups and are fixed on their upper portions with awning below. At the time of the Jewelry District National Register nomination in 1985, changes to the building’s exterior included the removal of the original marquee and the installation of modem windows in place of the original industrial sash. Changes since 1985 include the removal of the prominent smokestack and the addition of an additional story at the roof level.

Little Nemo Manufacturing Company was founded in 1913 by Benjamin Brier, President; Charles Brier, Vice President; and Samuel Magid, Secretary-Treasurer, to manufacture imitation diamond jewelry. Importers of stones from all over the world, the company cut, polished and in some cases set the stones by machine, producing more than 33,000 pieces of jewelry annually (Book of Rhode Island 1930). Having outgrown its rented quarters on Ship Street, the firm built this factory on the southern outskirts of the jewelry district. The Book of Rhode Island reported that by 1930 the company was the largest manufacturer of imitation diamond jewelry in the world and was one of the leading concerns dealing with the chain stores. Specially designed automatic machines took the raw stock in at one end of the building and sent it out at the other end ready for coloring. Little Nemo occupied the building until the late 1970s (RIHPHC 1981). The building was renovated in 1978 for use as office space and is currently owned by Richmond Street Parking Associates, LLC.

Read two more historical sources

From the National Register nomination form for the Providence Jewelry Manufacturing Historic District, 1985

222 Richmond Street, Little Nemo Building (1928): Frank S. Perry, architect. This is a 3-story, flat-roof, reinforced concrete building. It has curtain walls arranged in piers and spandrels with bands of windows with narrow Roman brick panels underneath. The wall is rounded at the corner of Ship and Richmond Streets. The concrete piers rise up to the roofline, where they are capped with arrow-like ornaments. There are also small corner parapets and a central parapet over the Richmond Street entrance with geometric Art Deco detailing.

The Little Nemo Building was rehabilitated in 1978 for use as office space. The principal changes to the exterior were the removal of the original marquee and the installation of modern tinted glass with small corner casements in place of the original industrial sash windows.

From the RIHPHC’s survey of Providence Industrial Sites, July 1981

Little Nemo Manufacturing Company (1928): Frank 5. Perry, architect. The Little Nemo Manufacturing Company was founded in 1913 by Benjamin Brier, Charles Brier, and Samuel Magid to manufacture imitation diamond jewelry. The company imported stones from all parts of the world and cut, polished, and-in some cases-set the stones by machine, producing more than 33,000 pieces of jewelry yearly. Having outgrown its rented quarters in the Doran-Speidel Building on Ship Street, the Little Nemo Manufacturing Company built a new factory in the mixed-use, residential, commercial, and industrial area on the southern outskirts of the jewelry district. The Nemo Building is a 3-story reinforced-concrete structure with a glass curtain wall which is rounded on the corner of Richmond and Ship Streets, a flat roof, a central parapet with Art-Deco detailing, and simpler corner parapets. Modern windows have been installed and the original marquee has been removed. The Little Nemo Manufacturing Company occupied the structure until the late 1970s. The Nemo Building is partially occupied.

In the News

Costume-Jewelry Factory Will Become Brown’s Medical School, Saving $35-Million

by Lawrence Biemiller
The Chronicle of Higher Education | August 18, 2010

Brown University was looking for architects for an $80-million home for its Warren Alpert Medical School when the economy imploded two years ago, forcing the university to rethink its plans. Instead of putting up a new building on an empty lot in Providence’s Jewelry District, the university decided to gut and renovate an existing structure it owned just across the street — a 1928 factory where the Brier Manufacturing Company once made costume jewelry with the brand name Little Nemo.

The change of plans brought some challenges. Tenants in the Little Nemo building, which had been commercial office space since 1972, had to be relocated. And Ellenzweig, the architecture firm that the university eventually hired, had to create an interior design that worked around the factory’s imposing concrete columns, which are on a 20-foot grid. But the renovation will offer the medical school all the same features it would have enjoyed in a brand-new structure — in fact, the renovated building will have slightly more space than would have been in the new building, says Michael J. McCormick, the university’s assistant vice president for planning, design, and construction.

And the project’s price tag? It was cut almost in half, to $45-million, Mr. McCormick says.

The building, located at Richmond and Ship Streets, is one of eight that Brown purchased several years ago in the Jewelry District, for decades a hub of costume-jewelry manufacturing and before that a neighborhood of ship chandlers. Now the district’s late-19th and early-20th-century factories have become residential and commercial buildings, some of them quite elegant. And the imminent removal of an elevated highway that had cut the Jewelry District off from downtown Providence is expected to be a big boon to the neighborhood, Mr. McCormick says. The piers of the bridge that carried the highway across the Providence River are to be reused for a pedestrian crossing that will make it about a 10- or 15-minute walk to Brown’s main campus. Land that had held on- and off-ramps will become a park.

Brown previously renovated the nearby Speidel watch-band building as a molecular-medicine lab. A small medical-device manufacturer has since moved in beside it, creating the nucleus of a medical-science district. For medical students, a big benefit of the new location will be proximity to Hasbro, Rhode Island, and Women & Infants Hospitals, all located on the south side of the Jewelry District.

But the renovated factory will be an attraction in its own right. Ellenzweig’s plans call for cutting a new atrium in the middle of the building as well as for replacing some of the concrete columns with a huge truss to accommodate a pair of open 120-seat lecture halls. Other columns will remain visible, along with the building’s striking waffle-cut ceilings — one goal of the renovation, Mr. McCormick says, is to “let the historic building be the historic building.” The facility will have anatomy labs, classrooms, offices, a library, social spaces for students, and a corner cafe open to the public. A rooftop terrace will offer views of the river and the main campus.

The renovation, due to be completed a year from now, is aiming for LEED gold certification, Mr. McCormick says. It will also let the medical school increase class size from 90 to 120 students. In keeping with an agreement between the city and the university, the building will remain on the Providence tax rolls for a total of 15 years. The university will make full tax payments for five years, then pay at a two-thirds rate for another five years and at a one-third level for the final five.

Captured around 2020 from, recaptured January 29, 2022 from

  1. Orenstein, David. “Brown builds its future behind familiar façades.” Brown University News, October 5, 2011. Accessed January 29, 2022. 

  2. “Brown to design and build, buy and retrofit two new research facilities.” Brown University Press Release, October 11, 2003. Accessed January 29, 2022. 

  3. “Brown builds its future behind familiar façades.”