Meanwhile, on Blackstone

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The Nicholson estate, 288 Blackstone Blvd., proposed for demo and division into ten lots.

A third effort to transform a historic Providence estate into a collection of big cheesy houses has emerged along Blackstone Boulevard. Readers will recall when neighborhood opposition in 2014 thwarted a division of the Granoff estate into ten lots, at least for now, but failed in 2016 to block a division of the Bodell estate just behind the Granoff estate. Its new houses, cheek by jowl, serve as a warning. But at least those two efforts did not imagine demolishing the two historic mansions involved.

Not so the Beresford-Nicholson estate, a bit farther south at No. 288 on Blackstone. Developers want to tear down the 1910 house built by William Beresford, a stockbroker, and expanded in 1919 by Paul Nicholson, who was a vice president of the Nicholson File Co., once among the international powerhouse manufacturing firms whose wealth build Providence in the late 1800s. The developer wants to put ten new houses on the property, which also features a great stone wall, which would be punctured for driveways.

Below is the actual entry in the survey of the East Side (not College Hill) by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission:

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The developer’s idea is to gut the Nicholson land so that new houses can go up according to the wishes of the supposed house buyers. This means that anything could happen on the site, including the landing of an alien space ship that would wreck the resale value of however many of the houses are already built or signed for by the time that happens. It might not happen. But it might. It has on the Bodell site. (See below.) Under this sort of scheme, the early house buyers might never know until the final house is built.

This is the same strategy used by the same developer (the Bilotti Group) to build out the Bodell estate, where four of five houses seem to be at or near completion. They are shamed by the beauty of the surviving Bodell mansion, which may be why this time the mansion will be sacrificed. The new houses on the old Bodell estate are pictured below, all taken recently. The first house is the best of the lot. One is just being framed. The last looks to be a good example of an alien spaceship and a hoary modernist cliché to boot. They are followed by a shot of the Bodell mansion, which has been preserved.

The first public meeting on this subdivision, continued from November, will be held tomorrow by the City Plan Commission, at 4:45 p.m. at the city planning department, 444 Westminster St. A public hearing at the same meeting, where citizens can address the panel, is not mentioned on the CPC agenda but I have heard there is one scheduled. Nor are the proposed demolitions of the mansion and at least one spectacular out-building mentioned on Item 3 of the agenda.

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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, dbrussat@gmail.com, 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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12 Responses to Meanwhile, on Blackstone

  1. Joe says:

    Do you have any updates on the Granoff estate?

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    • I am afraid I do not. My understanding of the current situation, which may be either wrong or not up to date, is that the Granoffs’ real-estate agent, Jim DeRentis, acquired the estate along with his husband, gubernatorial aide Brett Smiley. So far as I know, they still live there. I do not know whether they have sold it since, or plan to. If I learn more I will let you know.

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  2. Joe says:

    Do you have any updated info on whats going to happen to the Granoff estate?

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  3. Kelly says:

    I’ve lived around the corner in Oak Hill for almost ten years and have watched with dismay as single properties along the Boulevard are subdivided into two and filled with tacky houses with no yards. In my dreams, someone would have bought this estate and turned it into a community center/public garden. If only I had several million dollars…

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    • Yes, very depressing. The appalling thing is that the most highly placed Rhode Islanders don’t seem to realize, any more than leading Providencers do, that beauty is our stock in trade. It’s certainly not friendly business environment. If it weren’t for its beauty, Rhode Island would have no incentives for business to move here. Maybe to be between New York and Boston, but there are lots of competitors in that racket (granted, most of them also have bad business climates).

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  5. William S. Kling says:

    Boy, am I sorry the Dec/ Jan froofarah made me fall behind on your columns. I agree with the design comments, but I do think the density is important. Any idiot with no taste and lots of money ( listen to Robert Kraft song “Cafe Society”) can cram a megamansion with no space-it seems lot line restrictions were entirely waived for this project. Try to sell your house in a high-rent district with no yard, to some other high-income person with kids-when I was grade-school age my folk’s 50 x 100 lot was big enough, but my best friend’s family had a double lot and we could play ball. Plus the MB fields were only a block away. I guess they can, as I did, play in Swan Point or Butler. Will catch up soon on new posts.

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    • I accept that subdividing the 288 Blackstone land is inevitable. But I think they should keep both the big house and the carriage house, and maybe the playhouse, and subdivide what remains. Further, they should build two or three other big houses instead of ten, and make them luxurious enough and beautiful enough to fit into the neighborhood. I’m sure they could make just as much money doing something like that.

      Hope you will enjoy playing catchup!

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  8. Eric Daum says:

    So sad. The houses along Blackstone built in the early days of the 20th Century were gracious and elevated not just their owners but the beauty of the neighborhood. The new chip board and vinyl houses built in their stead do not elevate the neighborhood. They only lower it to the level of cheap speculative development. TGe problem isn’t density. The problem is that a neighborhood of distinguished historic houses will be overrun by ugly pre-fab plans and shoddy materials.

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    • You are correct, Eric. The problem is not density but the cheapness of the houses. And if it were not bad enough, I just realized today that one of the outbuildings proposed for demo is a garage/cottage for staff that is so incredibly awesome that I would totally go to mattresses to preserve it.

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