Downtown living tour, 2015

The George C. Arnold Building, 11 feet wide, built in 1923. (

The George C. Arnold Building, 11 feet wide, built in 1923. (

This year’s Downtown Living Tour, operated genially, as usual, by Joelle Kanter of the Providence Foundation, is on Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. By shuttle and pedicab – Sol Chariots have become a delightful fixture locally – you can visit new and exciting places to live for those who want to experience the vivid enchantments of the downtown lifestyle. Or you can walk. Among the 11 rental and condo complexes on view are several brand new apartment options in Providence’s hot downtown market.

Recently, when AS220, the arts cooperative, hosted a panel on placemaking in the Peerless Building, its units were described as fully rented. So its absence from this year’s tour is no surprise. Although the Living Tour ($6 in advance, $10 on Saturday) kicks off at AS220’s 115 Empire Street digs, attendees are invited to a photo exhibit in the Peerless atrium of the Providence Perservation Society’s 10 most endangered properties.

The Arnold Building when new in 1923. (Journal archives)

The Arnold Building when new in 1923. (Journal archives)

The George C. Arnold Building, one to see on Saturday, blessedly escaped the endangered list after 2012 when plans were adopted to put two retail shops and three apartments in the Washington Street building, only 11 feet wide and ravaged by fire in 2009. How do these three units compare to the microlofts at the Arcade? Does their size transcend the narrow ambit of their width? How deep are they? Well, let’s see! (Don’t confuse it with the Arnold Building, right across Mathewson Street, built in 1896 by the father of George C. Arnold. It is also on the list of buildings being redeveloped as apartments.)

Look at the web  page of  the Downtown Living Tour for the entire list of complexes available for viewing on Saturday. I’ll be taking the tour to check out the latest apartments in old buildings newly redeveloped. They are:

  • George C. Arnold Building, 3 units
  • Merchant’s Bank Building, 8 units
  • Kinsley Building, 44 units
  • Promenade complex, 196 units added

And here is a list of even more downtown residential projects in various stages of planning and construction, with the expected number of units:

  • Lapham Building, 40 units
  • 32 Custom House, 10 units
  • Union Trust Building, 60 units
  • Arnold (Blake’s Tavern) Building, 8 units
  • Irons & Russell (95 Chestnut) Building, unknown

Since the 2010 census, which counted 4,569 people living in Census Tract 8, some 356 new units have been added downtown, but alas, whole swaths of land have been added in recent years to what is officially considered downtown. I have not counted the proposed graduate-student housing at South Street Landing as planned new downtown residences because I don’t consider the Jewelry District (the I-195 corridor, the Knowledge District, whatever) to be part of downtown. An expanding definition of downtown does not really equate to a growing downtown, but it does undermine the city’s ability to claim that its downtown is compact and walkable – vital selling points, not to be tampered with lightly.

Be that as it may, downtown is what it is, and that will remain the case however it is defined by authorities. I lived downtown for 11 years, five of them carless by choice, in the Smith Building, the first of Buff Chace’s loft rehabs. The latest of the latter are the new Kinsley Building units. I live in the municipal suburbia of the East Side now, but I pine for my days living the Downcity dream. My kingdom for a pedicab!

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.
This entry was posted in Architecture, Architecture History, Art and design, Development, Preservation, Providence, Urbanism and planning and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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