Through our Lens:

Providence, Rhode Island

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Good things come in small packages…or in this case, a small State. The smallest to be exact. As one of the oldest cities in America, Providence has a lot of hidden gems. From one of the world’s largest free-standing marble domes, to the 3rd oldest library, we uncovered a little bit of everything!

Let’s skip to the head of the class with a little “Graduate-level” course on the belle of Dorrance Street. Recently renovated with its retro-inspired decor that harkens back to a Mid-Century heyday, the Graduate Providence is ushering into a new era as the the place to be in The Renaissance City. Formally known as the Biltmore Providence, whose neon sign still glows atop the structure, this address has seen a lot in its near 100 year history.

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11 Dorrance St, Providence, RI 02903

Westminster Arcade

Though this arcade may not be filled with gaming consoles, it is choked full of history. As the oldest indoor mall in America it has seen hundreds of tenants and thousands of patrons. When first opened it was able to host 78 small shops and restaurants, and was even the first home of the Providence Athenaeum Library. Despite its pristine location in downtown Providence, it was listed on the most endangered properties list several times before it was finally converted into a mixed-use space for small businesses and residents interested in micro-lofts.

65 Weybosset St, Providence, RI 02903

Fleet Library at Rhode Island School of Design

Listed on the top 50 libraries in the world is RISD’s Fleet Library. Its gold gilded, ornate reading room was once home to a bank, but the design school took up occupancy in 2006 when they had outgrown their old library facilities. As one of the oldest independent art college libraries in the country their collection is filled with rare books, and a plethora of visual and material resources.  Today a clock fit for Grand Central Station alerts students to how long they’ve had their noses in the books, and remnants of the old bank can be found if you just know where to look!

15 Westminster St, Providence, RI 02903

WaterFire

Two elemental opposites are united on the Providence River in this nocturnal tradition that has continued for two decades. What started as a one time New Years Eve art installation became so beloved that the city has continued the tradition for 26 years. But don’t worry about bringing an extra coat and mittens because they have moved it into the warmer months of the year. Today the installation stretches one-third of a mile through the city’s river with 66 baskets that are lit with firewood by procession of gondolas and music by local musicians – so be sure to leave your boomboxes at home.

4 N Main St, Providence, RI 02903

A burst of creativity can come from the most curious of sources, and at the Rhode Island School of Design, students are encouraged to seek inspiration often hidden in plain sight – or rather as seen through a super-microscope. Whether it’s the leaves of a bonsai tree inspiring the curvature of a laptop, or the texture of a winter coat made to match the fuzz found on a single grain of pollen, the importance of “organic” thought in the creative process was always paramount to RISD Nature Lab’s female founder.

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13 Waterman St, Providence, RI 02903

RISD Museum of Art

In 1876 the Rhode Island Women’s Centennial Commission had a surplus in their funding for the year. In considering how to invest the extra cash, the commission came up with two ideas- build a fountain, or start an experimental school of art and design. The quest for a school won out, and a year later the Rhode Island School of Design was founded. But an art school wouldn’t be complete without a collection to inspire its students, so in the same year the RISD Museum of Art opened its doors. Today it is the 20th largest art museum in the United States and has everything from fine ceramics, iconic furniture, and classic masters on view for students and hobbyists alike.

20 N Main St, Providence, RI 02903

Nightingale Brown House

This golden-hour hued home is one of the largest surviving wood-framed houses that dates back to the 18th century. With a garden that was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead  – the genius behind New York’s Central Park – and over 900 objects that belonged to five generations of the Brown family, this historic home has now become the Brown Center for Public Humanities. Today students participate in courses surrounded by fine china, family photos of the Browns, and an eloquent dining and living room, giving the school building the feeling of a true home.

357 Benefit St, Providence, RI 02903

From sultry romances to path-paving protagonists – the shelves of this 200-year-old library have no shortage of stories to share, but we have chosen two such tales to tell from within the walls of America’s fourth-oldest library, the Providence Athenaeum. 

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251 Benefit St, Providence, RI 02903

Van Wickle Gates

Every renowned university has its own set of rumors and superstitions, and Brown University is no exception. The notorious Van Wickle Gates may appear to be the main entry point to the campus, but visitors may be a tad confused when they find that it is almost always closed. Per tradition, the gates are only opened twice a year, once to welcome new students, and a second time for newly distinguished alumni. Every so often a curious or unknowing scholar may fall victim to walking through the gates before it’s their time – harmless enough. But at Brown University, this simple act means that you will surely be cursed into not graduating. Luckily, this hex can be reversed by a backwards trot through the gate, and all your woes, and semester tuition, will be saved.

Providence, RI 02912

Carrie Tower

Carrie Tower may appear to be an ordinary clock tower that once kept Brown University students on time for their lectures – but the structure is one built from love. When Paul Bajonotti’s wife of sixteen years passed away he wanted to create a beacon of love in her honor. His lovely companion Caroline Mathilde Brown had connections to Brown University and he chose to grace the campus with a new clock tower with the phrase “Love is Strong as Death” carved into the edifice. 

In the 1950s the clock suddenly began to run erratic, and upon investigation it appeared that someone had played a prank by removing some of the necessary mechanisms. Although the tower may no longer beckon students to lectures on time, the couple’s love can’t be broken.

Waterman St, Providence, RI 02912

Fleur-de-lys Studio

It’s not everyday you come across a building as outfitted as the Fleur-de-lys House – that is unless you live in Providence. Built in 1885 by painter Sydney Burleigh, this one of a kind structure served as a workspace for himself and the newly formed Providence Art Club. The facade is fittingly decorated in hand carved reliefs that are accentuated in a burst of yellow, and the interiors once were decorated with a hodgepodge of furniture crafted by the club members. Though the furniture has found new homes, the house is still frequented with collections of the club member’s artwork, and is an active studio for artist residencies.

7 Thomas St, Providence, RI 02903

Ladd Observatory

The perfect place for night owls & star gazers.  Opening in 1891, the observatory was built primarily for student instruction and research, but the job of operating the regional timekeeping service may have been it’s most important role on the Brown University campus. Responsible for the care and calibration of clocks on campus including Carrie Tower and the class bell at University Hall, students may have had some unkind words for the observatory when running late to a lecture.

210 Doyle Ave, Providence, RI 02906

Old State House

George Washington, Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony were all once under the same roof – it may have been decades apart, but the building has remained the same! The Old Rhode Island State House was built in 1762 and was the designated meeting place for colonial and state legislatures for almost a century and a half. Once the marble clad State House was completed, the legislature moved their meetings into a bit more spacious atmosphere, but the building continued to operate as a Courthouse until 1975. Today it has become the home of the Rhode Island Preservation Commission, who have been the best doctors for sprucing up the old building to its former glory.

150 Benefit St, Providence, RI 02903

Between the world’s fourth-largest self-supporting marble dome, a portrait of George Washington painted by America’s leading Revolutionary artist, and a ceiling so ornate that it’s plated in gold, it’s impossible to leave the Rhode Island State House unimpressed. But the most amazing artifact of them all? It’s a bit harder to find… tucked away at the end of an unassuming hallway.

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82 Smith St, Providence, RI 02903

Veterans Memorial Auditorium

Though it may have taken over two decades to complete, The VETS Theater was worth the wait. As one of the oldest arts venues in Rhode Island, it has been added to the National Register of Historical Places. The theater is acclaimed for its unique combination of size and intimacy, along with flawless acoustics – trust us we tried it out. It has the largest theater stage in Rhode Island making it one of the main centers of performing arts culture in the state. Many guests find it difficult to leave the gorgeous halls after a show, but one visitor named Franklin never found the heart to leave and is said to spook stage managers and actors when he’s excited for a new show.

1 Ave of the Arts, Providence, RI 02903

This magnificent structure known as the Providence Public Library in Providence, Rhode Island is deeply dedicated to its role as an educator and cultural center. Unlike typical public libraries, this library is privately governed and supported by an elected Board of Trustees who run for four-year-terms.

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150 Empire St, Providence, RI 02903

Columbus Theatre

When its doors first opened in 1926, the theater sported 1,492 seats and was named for Columbus’s 1492 Expedition. Now one of two historical movie theaters left in Rhode Island, the theatre was once the premiere destination for Vaudeville and silent films that were accompanied by a jaunty organ. But with the dawn of television crowds waned in favor of couch surfing. To compete with at home entertainment, a new manager came up with a plan in the early 70s to show films that no one could get on their friendly telecasts, but unfortunately this was met with some opposition. Thankfully, in 2012 a group of local musicians purchased the Columbus Theatre which today’s cinephiles and concertgoers alike prefer to any television set.

270 Broadway, Providence, RI 02903

West Side Diner

What started as a lunch cart parked outside of factories for famished Providence workers would become known as America’s first true diner. Today the city has an abundance of bacon-filled grilles all over town, and West Side Diner is no exception.  Serving up the classics with a side of black coffee since 1947, the streamline art deco eatery has earned its place on the National Register of Historic Places and is situated just blocks away from the site of the original “lunch cart”.

1380 Westminster St, Providence, RI 02909

Wedding Cake House

When it came to dressing up, the Triocchi sister’s dress shop was the place to be seen. Anna and Laura Triocchi were born in Italy, and were trained in high quality dressmaking in Rome. The two packed their supplies and emigrated to the US in 1908 opening their first shop in a small space in downtown Providence. But stitch by stitch the sisters worked up enough wealth to move their operations into a distinguished three floor home on Broadway Street. 

The home quickly became a mix of public and private. The first floor was reserved for the physician practice of Laura’s new husband, while the elegant second floor became the stage for dress fittings and entertaining elite fashion clientele. The tippy top of the mansion was reserved for living space, and of course a whole lot of sewing equipment.

514 Broadway, Providence, RI 02909

Roger Williams Park

Once farmland that belonged to Betsey Williams, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Rhode Island’s founder Roger Williams, she kindly left it to the people of Providence in 1871. At the time, industrialization was in full swing and the park was an oasis for anyone looking to get a breath of fresh air. Today the park is a whopping 435 acres and has enough space to host the country’s third oldest zoo, the only natural history museum in Rhode Island, and an enormous botanical garden – but we still think the best addition are the pond’s duck boats.

Pine Hill Ave, Providence, RI 02907

Museum of Natural History and Planetarium

How do you start a natural history museum? Well, in the case of Rhode Island, you find someone who really loved collecting taxidermy.  Disguised as a French Chateau the Natural History Museum of Providence first opened in 1896, and exhibited items from their first major donation by a former Providence resident that consisted of mammal and bird specimens. As the only Natural History Museum in the state, many more donations have been made, and now the collection has more than a quarter of a million objects! But unfortunately the museum isn’t big enough to house them all, and only about two percent of the collection is on view – making us extra curious about what they are hiding in their archives.

1000 Elmwood Ave, Providence, RI 02907

Roger Williams Park Botanical Center

Chilly East Coast winter got you yearning for a bit of green vegetation and warm oasis? Luckily Providence is home to New England’s largest indoor glasshouse garden, and there’s something in bloom all year long. Introduced to the Roger Williams Park in 2007, the Botanical garden founders were able to integrate larger plants that were saved from old greenhouse displays around the area. Not a fan of greenery? Take some time to meditate at the koi pond, or give the resident goats a good pet – just be sure not to let them out of their pen!

Floral Ave, Providence, RI 02905

Pomham Rocks Lighthouse

Named after the compact, half acre island it calls home, this dollhouse-esque lighthouse has been guiding ships through the Providence River for 150 years.  The design became so beloved that four nearly identical lightstations were built across the New England coast. And it must have been quite the spot because the first keeper C H Salisbury and his wife Mary stayed for twenty-two years only accompanied by a coop of chickens.

Riverside, RI 02915

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