Swedish Workingmen’s Association

This unassuming golden brick, pier and spandrel commercial building has been part of the Johnson & Wales campus since the mid-1960s

About this Property

#Redevelopment

Johnson & Wales University (JWU) has owned this building since about 1965. The building was named Johnson Hall as part of the campus. The corner restaurant space was occupied by “Chestnuts” which served the student population since the mid-1980s, but as of 2007 became home to a Starbucks coffee shop open to the public.

A clean up and rehabilitation in 2005-2007 modernized the retail and classroom space. Another redevelopment occurred in 2015 as the new Engineering and Science Center was built on adjacent vacant land after interstate 195 was relocated.

#Current Events

A burger eatery, City Burger, owned and run by JWU, occupies another retail space behind Starbucks and both accept JWU dining points for payment. The upper floors are used as classroom space as the building is now connected to the Engineering and Science Center at Johnson & Wales University.

#History

No official write historical write ups to cite.

In the 1920–1956 Sanborn Map series — in which we believe 1920 maps were redrawn using what they knew in 1956 — the property is labelled as “Jewelry Manufacturing, Fire Proof construction, built 1926, concrete floors, reinforced brick walls, steel beams.” A “Rest” occupied the corner space (we assume that means restaurant), much as it does now with the Starbucks space. The street numbers were 55, 57, and 59 on the Chestnut Street side. Previous to this map, a different structure was on site and labelled number 37 in 1899 and number 55 in 1889 on the Chestnut Street side.

Interestingly, on the opposite corner (Chestnut Street and Friendship) is a building labelled as “Chestnut St. HQ.” We have no idea what that was and whether or not it inspired the dining hall name “Chestnuts” for Johnson & Wales.

City directories list several fraternal societies that gathered at 59 Chestnut Street:

  • The Grand Army of the Republic, George H. Browne Post, No. 25, Meets at 59 Chestnut first Friday evening in each month
  • Knights of Pythias, Monitor Lodge, No. 3. Meets second and fourth Friday evenings
  • MacCabees, Columbus Tent, No. 1. Meets second and fourth Fridays
  • Royal Arcanum, Haven Council, No. 4, Arcanum Angels. Meets third Friday of every month
  • Rhode Island Department, Gen. A. E. Burnside Camp, No. 5. Meets third Wednesday in each month
  • Sons & Daughters of Liberty, Betsey Ross, No. 23. Meets at 59 Chestnut room 1, second and fourth Tuesday
  • etc…

A 1930 City Directory and a 1932 City Directory both list “Swedish Workingmen’s Assn Hall 59 Chestnut.”

If the building was built for Jewelry manufacturing, surely it was light manufacturing, or the building had additional space for meetings to take place. Fraternal organizations were numerous and used any space they could find for their meetings. It would not be uncommon for a Fraternal order that owned their building to host others. The period after the Civil War and before the second World War was the peak of fraternal order membership.

Because of the way the Jewelry Historic District was defined, with Interstate 195 as one of the northwestern boundaries, this building falls just outside of that district and therefore was not included. An expansion of the District in 2007 did not include anything west of I-195 either.

#In the News

Johnson & Wales Breaks Ground on $40 Million Engineering and Science Center

by Madeline Parmenter
Private University Products & News | July 2015 (abridged)

Memories of one of the worst New England winters on record quickly faded away as the first shovelfuls of dirt were tossed marking the official start of construction on Johnson & Wales University’s (JWU) newest academic building, which will soon be the home of a $40 million engineering and science academic center.

JWU becomes the first shovel in the ground for land made available by the re-alignment of Interstate-195 in Providence, RI. The building is being constructed on a parcel of land the university purchased in 2012.

“What we are constructing represents the future of Johnson & Wales as we expand our science, technology, and engineering programs, and the future of the workforce where our graduates will begin their careers,” said Marie Bernardo-Sousa, LP.D., JWU senior vice president of administration.

This is the first academic building ever constructed by JWU on the Downcity Providence Campus in its over 100-plus years history. “Typically, we acquire existing properties and renovate the buildings to meet needs,” said JWU Project Manager Jason Witham. “This is a change for us. It’s particularly exciting as we were able to program the building from the ground up versus having to deal with an existing structure.” The center will be part of the stretch of land that state and city officials hope will attract new construction. […]

Twenty-first century design will meet 1900’s style when the project is completed. JWU’s newest building will be next door to and encircling Johnson Hall (originally the Swedish Workingmen’s Association Hall) which is home to classrooms, a burger restaurant and Starbucks. The Hall was built in 1925, and acquired by JWU in the mid-1960’s. “We were challenged to ensure that the architecture of the new academic center respected the existing buildings in the area while it also reflected a look to the future,” said Witham. […]

Captured April 13, 2021 from https://www.pupnmag.com/article/johnson-wales-breaks-ground-on-40-million-engineering-and-science-center/