Providence Opera House

DSCN1774I had the pleasure of foisting my viewpoint upon a captive audience at a recent meeting of the Providence Netopian Club. For the uninitiated, which is surely almost everyone, Rhode Island founder Roger Williams, the father of religious (or “soul”) liberty, was greeted upon his arrival here by members of the Narragansett Tribe, who declared, “What cheer, Netop?”

“Netop” means friend in the native tongue and “What cheer” was an old English phrase of greeting. So it appears that Roger Williams met bilingual Indians upon his arrival. But that is no surprise. He knew them already and had learned their language and no doubt taught them his own. (Williams actually paid for the land on which he founded Providence.)

Hence, the Netopians, who were meeting at the Wannamoisett Country Club in East Providence. Warren Lutzel, who had the idea of inviting me, greeted me warmly and showed me two etchings of the Providence Opera House, once located on Dorrance Street where today the East German Embassy (that is, the Johnson & Wales library) sits coldly on the site of the Narragansett Hotel, which was demolished in 1960 to make way, it turns out, for a couple of decades’ worth of parking. Broadcast House (now the library) was erected in 1979, which, along with its nickname, tells you all you need to know about its appearance. I call it the East German Embassy, though my former editor Robert Whitcomb, recently retired from the Journal, retains title to its coinership.

Anyhow, the etchings were just sitting there on a couch, looking pretty, so I snapped their picture. They are by Harold Guenther Breul (d. 1965), of North Providence, and they are entitled “The Opera House in Days of its Glory” and “Last Night of the Opera House.” The first shows men in top hats arriving at the Opera House in carriages drawn by horses; in the second motor cars of a certain age are trundling down Dorrance past the building. It’s rare to find etchings of this high quality anymore, so feel free to feast your eyes. Warren Lutzel says he has more of these, and if he is able to get them to me, I will get them to you.


About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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