Category: Saved

West Broadway Middle School: Help me Tell This Story!

29 Bainbridge Ave.


West Broadway Middle School, 2015

Today marks the 69th day, or beginning of the 10th week, of the MEP20 challenge! I was tasked with exploring 20 Endangered Properties (MEP) over the course of 10 weeks, and I’ve only got one more to go. My deadline is Wednesday. I couldn’t have gotten this far without all of your help. It’s been a community effort. You’ve tweeted and left comments, sharing your knowledge, pictures and research into each of the buildings covered. And it was your participation that has made this project such a delight. So, for this last post, I’m turning to you to tell the story of the West Broadway Middle School from beginning to end.

Just a quick note to get us started. We’ve already covered two schools so far in this challenge: Grove St. School and Fruit Hill School, both of which have been demolished. Unlike these two schools, West Broadway Middle School was saved. We almost could have lost it though. It was listed twice on the MEP list (2003 and 2011) and closed for a few years in 2007. Luckily it re-opened and is again full of happy kids. I think this is a good building to end on because it’s a success story. Were you involved in its success?

What do you know about this building? What can you find out? Did you play a role in saving it, or know someone who did? Share this post with your friends, families, and colleagues! Tweet anything and everything to @pvdpreservation and/or comment below or on facebook. I’ll update this post with your comments, thoughts, memories and pictures by Wednesday May 13 at 5pm.

#PVD History Nerds Unite!

West Broadway Middle School Front Hall, 2015

West Broadway Middle School Front Hall, 2015

5/13/15 UPDATE
As I hoped you all came up with a wealth of information about the West Broadway Middle School. Here is the story of the school as you’ve shared it with me:

  • Mike Umbricht, @W9GYR, started us off by finding that the West Broadway Middle School was first constructed in 1904 as St. Mary’s Academy of the Visitation. It was the parochial school to St. Mary’s Parish located around the corner. Mike also pointed out that the name ‘St. Mary’s” was commonly used for churches and schools in Providence. He said, “She’s everywhere. Like looking for John Smith.”
  •  Jason Bouchard, @1W57TH, discovered the names of the school’s architects by tracking down the National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Broadway-Armory Historic District. The building was designed by Murphy, Hindle & Wright!
  •  My favorite librarian from the Providence Public Library, Kate Wells, @katefafa, found lots of good bits of information including this picture of the groundbreaking ceremony for the school on May 11, 1903:


  •  Jason Bouchard looked at this photo and determined that a couple of homes had to be demolished to make room for the cafeteria and auditorium the school has today. He proved himself correct by sharing with us a sanborn map showing the property that he found at the City Archives:

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 4.33.44 PM

  •  Kate Wells also found the architect’s plans for the building which contained lots of juicy bits of information, such as plans for the building to be heated and ventilation by a “direct and indirect steam gravity system” and lighted by electricity. The school was also expected to have a private system of “intercommunicating telephone and a plumbing system of the latest type”. Clearly, for its time this was a state of the art facility.

Architect's Notes


  • Kate also shared a news article from 1986 informing us that in this year the city bought the school from St. Mary’s Parish in order to turn it into a public elementary school due to over enrollment at neighboring schools. It was at this point that the school was re-named the West Broadway Elementary School.
  • We know however from the PPS MEP 2011 list, that it only remained operational as an elementary school until 2007 when it closed due to fire code violations. PPS was also concerned about the state of its deteriorating tower, which I’m told is still in need of repairs. The good news is, the school re-opened!
  • Sarah Dylla, @SarahDylla, shared with us an article celebrating the school’s re-opening as a middle school in 2014 faced again with a growing population.

I’m struck by the significance of this last point. Through the course of this MEP project we’ve already learned of two other historic schools on the MEP list, that date to the same time period, that were demolished. And I imagine that the West Broadway School wasn’t easy to save — the Providence community must have come together to fight for its preservation.

Alex Krogh-Grabbe, @alexkg413, hinted at this when he encouraged me to reach out to councilman Bryan Principe (I haven’t heard back, but when I do, I’ll be sure to update you!) and I got the sense from talking with Kari Lang of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association that numerous others were involved. Were you one of the people who banded together to save this building? If so (or if you have other thoughts to share), please comment below to share your story with us!

So there you have it folks: a success story, written by all of you, of Providence preservation. Thank you for sharing all of your thoughts, memories, research and pictures about this school and all of the other endangered properties we’ve covered over the past ten weeks!

Here is a record of what you said!

The Phenix Building


The Phenix Buidling, 2015

My experience approaching the reception desk of the Phenix Building was familiar. At this point in my journey of exploring 20 endangered properties in 10 weeks (just 2 more buildings and 1 week to go!), I’m used to the perplexed stares of strangers as I try to explain why I’m there and what I’m looking to do. As the receptionist contemplated what to do with me, a friendly face I hadn’t noticed before said, “I can tell you about the building! Come with me!” For a second I stood there in disbelief. I wasn’t expecting my visit to the Phenix (yes, this is the correct spelling) to be so fruitful.

Loren Williams

The friendly face was Loren Williams, Operations Manager for Brown’s Division of Advancement. Brown’s development office moved into the building, far removed from the rest of the campus, in 1999. Vacant for years, entire sections of the roof had fallen through making its demolition eminent. The building was listed on PPS’s Most Endangered Properties list for five years before plans were made for its rehab, with Brown secured as a tenant. Part of the terms of Brown’s lease allowed the university to design the floor plans. It’s lucky that this building was saved considering that so much else was lost including adjacent buildings and Phenix’s prominent smokestack.

Loren brought me into his office and without pause, launched into telling me everything he could about the building, hardly giving me time to take out my notebook. Loren is my favorite kind of historian: a really excited one. Unfortunately, he didn’t know everything. But he did know much more than the very little I found written about it. I’ll share with you what he shared with me. And then I hope you can all complete this puzzle by contributing any information you know of or are able to dig up.



Okay, this is what I learned:


  • The building was built in 1848 to be part of a foundry specializing in the manufacturing of hydraulic presses, dyers, printers, bleachers’ machinery, castings, and shaftings. The foundry was one of the first to produce the earliest American textile-printing machines.
  • The Phenix Co. dates back to 1830 and was founded by George D. Holmes
  • Legend has it that the building was a canon ball factory during the Civil War. Loren can’t find any evidence to back this legend up. It’s possible that a few canon balls were cast here, but it’s unlikely that at any point the building was solely dedicated to canon ball manufacturing.
  • After its time as a foundry it became part of the Narragansett Electric Company who mainly used the building as its dumping ground.
  • The building was basically built without a foundation and was sinking into the ground when rehab began. The only thing holding it up was a giant cistern original to the building. It would have been full of water for use of the foundry, but Narragansett Electric used it to dispose of all kinds of things including mountains of light bulbs.
  • It’s a beautiful old industrial building, and unique in that it’s faced with granite ashlar. The Elm Street facade is dominated by three large rounded-arched openings, one on top of the other. I assume this was an early elevator lift?
  • Loren referred to the brick addition to the building as the “machine shop”, elsewhere I read that this was an “elevator tower” addition.
What do you know about the building? We’re interested in any bits of knowledge, photos or theories you may have. Comment below, or on twitter @pvdpreservation #mep20.


Here’s one question to start you off with: how did it get the name “Phenix”? Did Mr. Holmes mean to call it the “Phoenix” and just not know how to spell?


5/8/2015 UPDATE
The Rhode Island Historical Society @RIHistory came through with the most fruitful information about the Phenix Building in sharing the Rhode Island Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites compiled by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1978. The report had some new information including:
  • By late 19th century nearly every bleachery in the country had been fitted by the Phenix Co.
  • In 1863 Phenix expanded 2 include another machine shop, foundry, woodworking & blacksmith shop.
  • In 1978 Phenix Building was home to a LUGGAGE manufacturer! Definitely hadn’t heard that one before

Erik Gould @ClickErik clued me into the fact that photographer Ira Garber had taken a number of wonderful photographs of the Phenix Building prior to its renovation. Some of these photos, and the information the Historical Society found can be seen in our storify story for this building below. Have more to share? Let us know @pvdpreservation!


5/9/2015 UPDATE

Twitter follower Steven Lubar, @lubar, did some digging and found a few exciting clues into the Phenix Building’s past! Lubar shared both a 1905 Sanborn Map picturing the building (surrounded by worker’s housing? he asks) and some 1891 Phenix Co. letterhead. The letterhead depicts the Phenix Co. complex in its early days and tells us that the company was the “sole manufacturer of the Nagle Power Feed Pump.” Not sure what that was. The complex depicted shares little resemblance to the building today leaving us to wonder at what point the building went through some pretty major alterations.

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 10.35.38 AM

1905 Sandborn Map (found by @lubar)

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 10.36.20 AM

Phenix Co. 1891 Letterhead (found by @lubar)

You can zoom in really close to the letter head by following this link shared with us by @lubar. Apparently if you’re interested in exploring Rhode Island company letterheads you’ll want to visit this site. @lubar also found a lot of information about the Phenix building in a book titled, “The Industrial advantages of Rhode Island“. According to this book, the first American made calico printing machine was produced at the Phenix Iron Foundry and they published the “largest catalog of gears and pulleys in the country.”


Vanessa Ryan, @vlryan, may have solved the mystery behind the Phenix Co. name! She asked if perhaps the name “Phenix” is connected to the village Phenix in West Warwick, pointing out that in that town there was also Phenix Mill (1810) and Phenix Hotel (1871). She also found a “Holmes” building on the map and wondered if it might be related to George D. Holmes, founder of our Phenix Foundry. Sounds like a great theory to me! I had no idea that the village of Phenix existed! Did you?!



 Here’s a record of what you’ve shared with me so far:
Hover over the images to see the text!

A Peek Inside Columbus Theater

 270 Broadway

Caroline Stevens, 2015

Caroline Stevens, 2015

When I visited the Columbus Theater, I did so in a rush 30 minutes before a scheduled lunch date. And what a mistake that was! Now, having researched the building, I’m becoming aware of all that I didn’t see and questions that I didn’t ask. For instance, I neglected to notice the original Wurlitzer organ, and it never occurred to me to visit the projector room or green room. And what’s it like behind stage? Had I known to, I would have asked all about longtime owner Jon Berberian’s early career as an opera singer. Was he a tenor? A baritone? Would he let me record him singing? Probably not, but who knows!

Jon Berberian

Jon Berberian

Jon gave up his career in singing to manage the Columbus Theater when his father, the late Misak Berberian, fell in love and purchased the building in 1962. Jon took a break from unclogging toilets and searching for some missing speakers to show me the theater, which I photographed without a tripod and a nearly full memory card (mistake number 2!). Nevertheless, it was a treat to see what I did see of the theater and to talk, if only briefly, to Jon.

Columbus Theater was designed by architect Oreste DiSaia and first opened its doors as a vaudeville and silent film theater in 1926. Bedecked with classical motifs and moldings, its interior features hand-painted portraits of 36 composers, with an intricate mural gracing the domed ceiling. In short, it’s a gem. But like most historic theaters it fell on hard times. Facing difficult competition from giant multiplex movie theaters, eventually the Columbus Theater had to show adult films to help pay the rent. In August of 2009 it was forced to close by city inspectors due to a number of outstanding code violations including everything from the fire and sprinkler system to the width of steps and type of paint used. The building was listed on PPS’s Most Endangered Properties list in 2011.

Caroline Stevens, 2015

Caroline Stevens, 2015

Soon thereafter, $400,000 was invested in the building, and Jon entered into a partnership with musician Jeff Prystowsky and his band who (with some other friends) agreed to program concerts in the space and pay Jon rent. It worked! The Columbus Theater is once again the hot place in town booking everyone from Bonnie Prince Billy to Iron and Wine. Who would I pay the big bucks to go see perform though? Definitely, Jon Berberian. That would be something special.


Caroline Stevens, 2015

Caroline Stevens, 2015

FUN FACT: Columbus Theater was named for its 1492 total seats (between the orchestra and mezzanine levels).

RUMOR: Someone told me that the paintings on the ceiling of the Columbus Theater were painted by the same artist who painted the dome of the capital. Anyone know if this is true?

READ: The New York Times recently wrote a great profile on the Columbus Theater and took lots of beautiful behind-the-scenes shots. Read it here!

 SHARE: I want to hear from YOU! What do you know about the Columbus Theater? Comment below, or share your thoughts and memories with us on twitter @pvdpreservation #mep20.

5/9/2015 UPDATE — Jon Responded! Here’s what he had to say:

To answer your question, George DeFelice was the artist who painted the murals and dome. As a young man from Florence, Italy,  he painted the murals and dome in our R.I. Capitol Building. He was a great uncle to two of our good friends we had lunch with last week!

Also, I am a tenor, I sang several leading tenor roles in Attleboro, MA and the Columbus Theatre from 1972 thru 1979 with the Chaminade Opera Group. I also sang at Brown University and was tenor soloist with several churches. My wife, a soprano (who sang as soloist with the RI Philharmonic Orchestra and also taught singing for twenty years at Providence College) and I met doing summer stock and then sang with the New York City Opera Co. We’ll be going to New York this month for a reunion!


Paul Wackrow on South Street Power Station

360 Eddy St.

Photo courtesy of Mike Umbricht

Photo courtesy of Mike Umbricht

I need all the help I can get to successfully complete my challenge of exploring 20 endangered properties in 10 weeks; I’m getting down to the wire here! We most recently heard from Erik Gould about the Providence Fruit and Produce Warehouse, and now I’m turning the blog over to a true expert: PPS Director of Preservation Services, Paul Wackrow. He’s been watching the development of the South Street Power Station project for some time, and was kind enough to share his experience with us. Here you go!

South Street Power Station

by Paul Wackrow

Over the past year, we’ve heard quite a lot about the “South Street Landing” project. It’s been covered extensively in the press, and PPS explored the project at our Providence Symposium last fall. But it wasn’t that long ago that South Street Landing (aka South Street Power Station, Narragansett Electric Lighting Company Power Station, Dynamo House, etc…) was one of the most dire preservation problems in the state.

The station was constructed between 1912 through 1925, and remained in active service until it was decommissioned in the mid-90s. Working in tandem with the nearby Manchester Street Station (which remains open), Narragansett Electric’s operation, along the Providence River, provided power to thousands of Rhode Islanders. After the station closed, the iconic smoke stakes were removed, and the city began to explore creative new uses for the site.

Photo courtesy of Art in Ruins Site

Photo courtesy of Art in Ruins

Massive, vacant, waterfront power stations seem to be pretty common in urban areas. London once had two – with the Bankside Power Station now housing the Tate Modern art museum, and the Battersea Power Station slated for a residential conversion after a bid to reuse the building as a soccer stadium failed. Burlington, Vermont, once wanted to make their empty power station into an ice climbing center.

southstreet2I first became familiar with Providence’s South Street Station in 2006. I was an intern for RINPR covering a press conference announcing the “Dynamo House” project. The centerpiece of the development was the Heritage Harbor Museum, which according to their website, would be, “an intergenerational venue where the State’s residents will share, learn, appreciate, and be inspired by the lives of past and present generations and their impact on the state, the nation, and the world.” The developer on the project was the Baltimore-based Streuver Brothers, Eccles and Rouse, who also developed the ALCO complex in the Valley neighborhood.

When Streuver Bros pulled out of Rhode Island following the economic downturn of 2008, the project slowly unraveled. With no new developments on the horizon, the building was included on our Most Endangered Properties list in 2011 and 2012.

tweetsouthstreetAnd that’s how things stayed for a while. Every once-in-a-while we would hear rumors, but nothing concrete. In 2012, I remember getting a little too excited when I saw a tweet that Mayor Taveras and Governor Chafee were touring the site (right), but the Mayor’s office quickly let us know that nothing was in the works.

… until 2013. Unbeknownst to the public, Brown, the University of Rhode Island, and Rhode Island College were working on a plan to bring this building back to life. In June of 2013, plans were announced to reuse the power station as a joint-URI/RIC nursing school, along with administration space for Brown. Commonwealth Ventures is the developer on the project, which will also include new graduate student housing on Point Street. This collaborative, outside-the-box solution is a result of the commitment and dedication of all three schools, the City of Providence, and the State of Rhode Island.

In December of 2014, I attended my second press conference celebrating an ambitious adaptive reuse plan. While I don’t see any of these partners packing up and leaving Rhode Island anytime soon, we’ll all breathe a sigh of relief when the lights are back on in the power station.

south street



We want to hear from YOU! What do you know about the South Street Power Station, or do you prefer to call it the DYNAMO HOUSE, or something else? Comment below, and share your thoughts and anything else with us, on twitter @pvdpreservation #mep20.





Lots of fun facts and useful information shared about Dynamo House / South Street Power Station on social media. Here’s what we have so far. What can you add?! Tweet to @pvdpreservation #mep20

Looking Good, George C. Arnold!

We’ve all been watching the restoration of the George C. Arnold building with great excitement. We cheered when a new roof and then windows were installed, and we’ve been encouraged by the persistent presence of construction workers even through the coldest months of winter. But have you been inside? Because as fantastic as the building is on the outside, it’s even better on the inside. Today I got to take a peek when Lori Quinn graciously gave me short tour — emphasis on short, this building has a depth of only 12.5 ft, and a total square footage of 3,500. It’s the narrowest building in Downtown Providence.
Caroline Stevens, 2015

George C. Arnold Building (Caroline Stevens, 2015)

I’ve been told that its narrow form is thanks to a street widening project from 1917. Luckily, despite the lot’s slender dimensions, real estate developer, George C. Arnold, saw an opportunity. The three story building was completed in 1923. Thankfully, local developers Lori Quinn, her partner David Stem, and the Providence Revolving Fund, were likewise not scared off by the building’s dimensions. Instead, they all saw potential and teemed up to save this struggling building. It had been listed on PPS’s Most Endangered Properties list three years in a row after a 2009 fire, and was looking especially lonely ever since the building behind it was demolished for a surface level parking lot (this storyline is starting to feel a bit redundant folks). But, let me tell you . . . it looks fantastic today. Better yet, they expect renovations to be completed by June 1st.
Caroline Stevens. 2015

Caroline Stevens. 2015

Renovated into what you ask? Two commercial spaces will be opening up on the bottom floor, two subsidized apartments on one half of the building (left side), and one bi-level market-rate apartment (right side) will be on the second and third floors. I’ve been inside and feel ready to move in! Take a look for yourself, and I bet you’ll want to be my neighbor.
One of the Subsidized Apartments, Caroline Stevens 2015

One of the Subsidized Apartments (Caroline Stevens 2015)

View from one of the subsidized apartments, Caroline Stevens 2015

View from one of the subsidized apartments (Caroline Stevens 2015)

Market-Rate Apartment, showing wall of formerly neighboring building (Caroline Stevens, 2015)

Market-Rate Apartment, showing wall of formerly neighboring building (Caroline Stevens, 2015)

One of two Commercial Units (Caroline Stevens, 2015)

One of two Commercial Units (Caroline Stevens, 2015)

Caroline Stevens, 2015

Caroline Stevens, 2015

What do you know about this building? And who can tell me what the building was that was directly behind it? Can you find me a picture?! Finally, are you also a hopeful resident? Share your thoughts and memories in the comments below, and on twitter @pvdpreservation, #mep20.

Here’s a record of what you’ve said so far:

KUDOS to Challenge Winner, Jessica David @JDinIR for correctly guessing my whereabouts. I think this might have had something to do with the fact that she participated in PPS’s recent tour of the building. Missed out? There’s still a couple more spring programs yet to come!

The Shepard’s Building: its Rise, Fall and Rebirth

259 Westminster Street

Photographer Unknown. PPS Slide Collection

Photographer Unknown. PPS Slide Collection

Unlike some of my recent adventures, getting into the Shepard’s Building is not difficult; I walk by it and through it almost daily on my way to work and school. I did have to do some serious digging though to discover the history behind the building, piecing together what it must have been like in its heyday as a department store, and how it ever ended up on the Most Endangered Properties List. My journey of discovery took me to the Providence Public Library where I met my favorite librarian, Kate Wells, and to the uppermost floor of City Hall where I found the city archives (Why didn’t anyone tell me about this amazing place before?! Thankfully Kate finally did). Mostly I delved into the filing cabinets and slide drawers of PPS.  This is what I learned:

The Shepard’s company opened its doors in a 3-story Italianate building located at Westminster and Clemence streets in April 1880. It didn’t take long for this small business to grow into the largest retail center in New England. Over the course of 23 years, the store went from occupying 6,400sf in 1880 to 301,000sf in 1903, taking over what was once a three-block area into one giant store. And it wasn’t just a store. In fact John Shepard was adamant that Shepard’s was not a department store, rather a “collection of stores, each more complete in itself than the small separate stores” (I suppose this is an important clarification in the age of Walmart and Target). Inside the building you could find Shepard’s Tearoom, The Wellington (a 5 star restaurant), an ice making and refrigeration plant, bakery, grocery store, letter writing area, nursery, information bureau and even a small post office. WEAN, Rhode Island’s first radio station, also began inside of Shepard’s. Of course, that long list doesn’t even include all of the finery, clothing, jewelry and the like that was also found at the store. I think it’s safe to say that you could literally find anything and everything you ever wanted under Shepard’s roof.

Photographer Unknown. Photo from Providence City Archives

Photographer Unknown. Providence City Archives

Former employees can attest that it was more than just a store. Everyone who worked there was treated like family. The company held annual dances, clambakes and other outings for employees, and by 1936 gave all employees two weeks of paid vacation – a benefit that even today, most department store employees aren’t so lucky to receive. I haven’t figured out why, but the store closed in 1973. Was it a parking issue? Shopping malls full of chain stores opening? Do you know the story?

Photographer Unknown. PPS Slide Collection

Photo Courtesy of Paul Clancy

From what I can tell, the Shepard’s building stood vacant until the 1990’s when a new owner, who purchased the building at a bankruptcy auction, said that he had to demolish it to make a surface level parking lot in order to generate revenue to pay off his bank loans. This is when PPS stepped in and organized a “charette” between community leaders to brainstorm ideas on how to best adaptively re-use the building. Teams considered renovating the building into a museum of Rhode Island history, commercial space, housing, and retrofitting the entire building into a parking garage. The idea that had the most potential from the beginning, and backed by Mayor Paolino, was to relocate the University of Rhode Island’s (URI) downtown campus into the building. This concept had legs seeing that plans were already in place to demolish URI’s then current campus to make way for Providence Place Mall.

And so the Shepard’s building was saved. Well, that makes it sound simple. The building was nearly demolished, and there was actually a huge amount of controversy that surrounded URI’s move into the building, which ended up needing to be almost entirely gutted. But the preservation of the Shepard’s building, a cornerstone of downtown Providence, led the way to rejuvenating downtown more broadly and was one of PPS’s greatest success stories.


PROGRAM: So, I really glossed over the history of saving the Shepard’s building. For the real story, told from the movers and shakers who actually worked to save the building, check out PPS’s upcoming program, “Preservation through Collaboration: the Shepard’s Department Store Building” on Monday April 20th. It’s FREE!

IMG_1791FUN FACT: Not once, but twice, the Shepard’s Building was engulfed in flames. The first fire was on December 5, 1890 and the second was on March 8, 1923. In both cases, Shepard’s was back up and running within the next couple of weeks. Business had to go on!

Stories to Share?: It seems like everyone knows someone who used to shop or work at the Shepard’s Department Store. Or maybe you played a role in helping to save the building. Please share your comments below, and on twitter (Pictures too!) @pvdpreservation, #mep20.

Inside the Arcade: Meet Devon, Micro-Loft Resident

130 Westminster St.

Devon MacWilliam

Devon in her Arcade micro loft

I live in a giant 2.5 bedroom apartment in the West End with my partner, and it’s full of clutter. How many handbags can one person have? And do we really need two sets of pans? Our 15x12ft bedroom seems small with our clothes strewn across the floor. Despite its size, our apartment doesn’t feel spacious. And so I can’t help but be intrigued by the idea of micro-living which is all the rage these days. But what is it like to actually live in a micro-loft? To find out, I visited Devon, a resident in the Arcade Providence.

Devon lives in one of the Arcade’s 300sf apartments which turns out to be about the size of my living room. It’s definitely appropriately called a micro-loft. I wanted Devon to give me the inside scoop on micro-living, figuring that it can’t actually be that great. But when I asked her about the downsides of living so small, she replied, “as for the micro-loft: for my year here, I’m not eager to leave at all.” I think she was honest in her positivity . . . which is a bit contagious. She mostly sold me on the concept.

Devon has lots of storage including deep drawers under her built-in sofa, a large closet, and cabinets. She’s a smart dresser, and I didn’t get the impression that her small apartment was cramping her style in the least. What she doesn’t have is floor space, so unlike my bedroom, her clothes are actually put away — she has no other choice. I was surprised to learn that she has three beds: her big comfy looking bed, a hidden murphy bed, and her long built in sofa could easily accommodate the tallest of over-night guests. She doesn’t have an oven or a stove but seemed perfectly satisfied with her microwave. Counter space was at a premium, but I wasn’t under the impression that she did a lot of cooking. And perhaps most importantly, Devon does have a dishwasher — an appliance I am sorely in need of. I was impressed. Don’t believe me? Listen to what Devon has to say about micro living:
Devon’s favorite part about living in the Arcade is the combination of being in an historic building with modern amenities. The Arcade was completed in 1828 with 78 shops and restaurants, and is the nation’s oldest indoor shopping mall. It’s a gorgeous Greek Revival building with a skylight that runs the length of the long central corridor. The building was added to PPS’s Most Endangered Properties program in 2009 after all of the tenants had been forced to leave a year earlier to accommodate a single tenant. This would have compromised the integrity of the building, especially the public corridor that connects two of Providence’s major streets.  Only a truly unique plan could save this building, and luckily Developer Evan Granoff of 130 Westminster Street Associates had one. Working with Northeast Collaborative Architects, the building was adaptively reused to accommodate 17 micro retail spaces on the main level and 48 micro lofts (ranging from 225-450sf) on the building’s second and third floors. The Arcade made national headlines for its successful transformation into micro-lofts and businesses. Now every city wants their own Arcade.

Caroline Stevens, 2015

Photo Courtesy of Northeast Collaborative Architects

Photo Courtesy of Northeast Collaborative Architects

So, what did I decide? I am definitely now a believer in the micro-living in concept. And if I was single and didn’t expect to do a lot of cooking, I’d add my name to the Arcade’s long waiting list. But, I’m not single, and do love to cook so I think I’ll stay put. Though my visit with Devon convinced me that I need to seriously minimize my belongings. Yard sale coming soon . . . stay tuned.
Want to learn more or add your name to the waiting list? Here’s the Arcade Providence’s website.
What are your thoughts on micro-living? Have you tried it or would you consider it? Share your comments below and on twitter @pvdpreservation, #mep20

What do you think or know about the Arcade? Share on twitter! @pvdpreservation

Car Trip to the Fieldstone Trolley Shelter

585 Blackstone Blvd.


Of course I approached the Fieldstone Trolley Shelter not by trolley, but by car. Providence’s streetcar service was disbanded by the city in 1946 due the huge increase of cars. It’s a shame. I never learned to drive as I grew up in big cities with massive public transit systems. I rode the eL in Chicago and the metro in DC. But here in Providence I have to depend on not always dependable buses. It would take me an hour to get from my home to the trolley shelter and adjacent Swan Point Cemetery by bus, a distance of just over 4 miles.  So I asked my partner (who insists that I’ll be learning to drive this summer) to drive me to my destination. It’s too bad Providence’s trolleys are no longer, but at least we still have this cool trolley shelter. Not long ago, it too was threatened with destruction.


The trolley shelter is situated at the entrance of Swan Point Cemetery. It was constructed by the request of the cemetery, who also picked up the bill, when the city began building a new streetcar line along Blackstone Blvd. The cemetery turned to the Olmsted Brothers, sons of the world famous landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted, to design the shelter which was completed in 1904.

The Olmsted Brothers (as their firm was appropriately called) had recently completed the cemetery’s entrance and surrounding wall — an impressively sized organic structure composed of large rocks and boulders. The trolley shelter was designed to mimic the wall, both of which were clearly influenced by the work of Olmsted senior who was known for his naturalistic design principles. Both the wall and the trolley shelter appear to have grown out of the surrounding landscape. The shelter lies low and long emphasizing the horizontal landscape it sits upon. Large rocks, carefully pieced together around large open-air windows and entrances on either side, support a wooden hip roof with wide overhanging eaves. So yeah, as trolley shelters go, this one is pretty cool.


Though 100 years after its completion, its age started to show. The roof was falling apart, some structural stones had become dislodged, and it was plagued by vandalism. In 2008 it was listed on PPS’s Most Endangered Properties list. The cemetery and Blackstone Parks and Conservatory worked together to restore the building, which looks great today. A success story.

What would really make this a success story? The revival of Providence’s streetcars of course! We already have $13 million, now we just need $26 million more. And I guess the line as currently mapped wouldn’t exactly reach the Fieldstone Trolley Shelter . . . but it’s a start!

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Curious to learn more about #PVD’s streetcar plan? Check out this short report, and this slightly longer one.

KUDOS to Challenge Winner Bill Fisher @williamjfisher for correctly guessing my whereabouts . . . Hope to meet him on a trolley someday.


Check out what people are saying about the Fieldstone Trolley Shelter:

Masonic Temple

5 Avenue of the Arts

Exterior walls supported during renovations. Photo courtesy of Erik Gould.

Exterior walls supported during renovations. Photo courtesy of Erik Gould.

Over twenty years ago, the Providence Preservation Society (PPS) announced their first list of Most Endangered Properties (MEP) on the steps of the Masonic Temple — a building that would later become one of PPS’s greatest success stories. Challenged to explore twenty of the MEP’s in just ten weeks, it seemed only natural to begin my journey in the same place.

It took me a while to grasp the unlikely story behind the classically designed Masonic Temple: that it stood unfinished and vacant for 75 years. Construction on the building (designed by Osgood & Osgood) complex started in 1927 to house the new Grand Lodge of the Providence Freemasons, a fraternal order which dates back to the mid 1750’s in Rhode Island. Plans for the building included an auditorium (which today exists as the Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium), banquet rooms, ballrooms, lodge halls, regalia rooms, meeting rooms and offices. Armed with $1,000,000 towards the $2,500,000 budget the Masons began construction, but unable to raise the remainder of the funds, work on the building ceased in 1928 as the Great Depression took hold of the country. Left completely raw with only the outside walls and roof completed, over the next 75 years the building slowly crumbled directly beneath the shadow of the Rhode Island State House.

From what I gather, sneaking into the abandoned construction site of the Masonic Temple was a rite of passage for generations of Rhode Islanders. Inside and out, layers of graffiti competed for attention, piles of trash littered the site, and thieves picked away the copper roof until it was completely gone.  I’m not sure what impresses me more: the fact that the building managed to stay (barely) standing for 75 years, or that after so long the community succeeded in finally completing the building, albeit in an entirely different form. Today the building is a Marriott Renaissance Hotel, with 272 rooms designed in 48 different configurations – necessary due to the constraints of the pre-existing floor-plates and window arrangements.

Caroline, March 2015

Approaching the impressive neo-classical building it was easy for me to forget that it didn’t always stand so strong. Despite having dug through PPS’s files on the building, I still half expected a grand classical interior to mimic the grandeur of the building’s exterior, and was disappointed to find myself in an unremarkable (though nice) hotel lobby. I had to remind myself that the very existence of this building is nothing short of amazing.


Art in Ruins offers some great information on the background on the building.  And the Renaissance Providence Downtown Hotel has a nice write up of history on their website as well.  Go check out the building yourselves! A series of original blueprints of the Masonic Temple adorn the walls of the first floor hallways.

And share with me YOUR thoughts on this building. What are some of your memories, and stories you’ve been told? Comment below and on twitter #mep20