The Tilden-Thurber Building, erected in 1895, designed by Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, of Boston, was sold last week but remains, so far as I can tell, as it was built, inside and out. Stanley Weiss, the local developer and fine antique furniture impresario, sold it to former mayor and longtime developer Joseph Paolino. “Providence’s historic Tilden-Thurber building sells for $712,000,” said the headline in the Providence Journal. That sounds like a tiny amount for so great a monument to the beauty of architecture in its heyday.
Here is a line from the downtown survey by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission: “4-story masonry building with classically inspired detailing including original stone pier-and-spandrel system on first and second stories with plate-glass and metal infill, colossal engaged and rusticated columns and quoined corners on third and fourth stories, broad Ionic entablature and ornate bracketed cornice; handsome, little-altered mahogany-cased interior space.” Gorham silver was on display here long after the firm evaporated.
The deal included side arrangements that may render the price meaningless. Paolino also bought Weiss’s mansion on Prospect Street, bought him a house on Pratt Street (which Weiss says will be renovated by Friedrich St. Florian, who designed the modernist house next door), and sold him a warehouse on Fourth Street for his massive collection behind the Festival Ballet Providence dance studio. The current tenant, a bike shop, will move elsewhere.
All that is neither here nor there. Who knows what will happen inside the building. A coffee shop on the ground floor? Offices upstairs? I hear but I don’t know. Weiss had the best office in the city, on the second story, whose huge plate-glass windows look out upon Grace Church across Mathewson and, kitty-corner, Grace Park at Freeman Square (or vice versa), a site he developed as the ritzy Hotel Providence. Its piazza is as close to European urbanism as it gets in Providence – which is, frankly, very, very close in many stretches of downtown. Weiss says his business is mainly catalogue sales to wealthy collectors from around the world, so he has not needed this elegant space for years. No doubt hesitant to leave it, he has been there for almost a quarter of a century. Because he has done so much, I have written about his activities for almost as long, and spent more than any man’s fair share of time in that office and in the magnificent showroom below.
But even if Paolino rents to new tenants with excellent taste in preserving the space and decorating it with rare sensibility, the interior cannot live up to the look of its recent past. Tomorrow it will be gone, but today it still takes much of its beauty from the collection of antiques crammed with a certain grace into the large rooms. Below are some shots taken in a spirit of joyful mourning, and blessed memory, before the advent of the men in vans.