A history of Thayer Street

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A party of Brown students on roof across Thayer Street from Andreas. Note dastardly SUV.

I’ve been invited to read from my book Lost Providence during an open-mic session this Friday, March 22, at the Brooklyn Coffee, Tea & Guest House, 207-209 Douglas Ave., at 6 p.m., $5, in Providence. But I think instead that I will, if my host, Lindsay Adler, will let me, read from a column I wrote about Thayer Street in 1993 for the Providence Journal (where I worked 1984-2014). It dives deep into the old shops that people love to remember. To whet your appetite, I here reprint a post from 2014 about Thayer Street:


Life on Thayer Street

My family dined al fresco on Thayer Street this evening. Thayer is the main street of Brown University on College Hill, in Providence. We arrived, sat down, got out our mobile media, and noticed a party under way on a roof nearby. Then we saw Billy’s grandma and grandpa across the street. Turns out they had just finished eating inside the same restaurant, Andreas, where we were eating outside. They came over.

We all enjoyed watching the roof party. At some point it seemed a “Cheese it, the landlord!” alarm went out and a very pretty girl tried to flee the roof. (She and her boyfriend had actually parked their small Volkswagen right opposite our table, bless them!) False alarm. Things calmed down, though the kid in the red sweater gave me the evil eye, I think, for shooting their shenanigans. Then we waved goodbye and they waved goodbye and we said goodbye to our folks and they left and we left, and on our way back to the car we saw a dog on a motorcycle (along with other typical Thayer personae), and went home.

I relay this homely adventure to convey the idea of a great street, which Thayer is. This is life happening in all its facets. It’s where the action is, a living adventure. Victoria took the photo that shows the Brown partiers in their urban context. At the bottom of that photo is the nemesis of great streets: the SUV. Not because it guzzles gas but because it blocks views. I love watching people stroll by on both sides of the street. Any SUV takes away part of that pleasure.

Yes, yes, we drove to Thayer in a car (it was not an SUV, I promise, not by a long shot). But that’s another complaint. Good urbanism in America – that is, towns and suburbs built before World War II and New Urbanist communities (and infill) of more recent years – is so rare that high demand has bid up the price for houses there, and so only rich people can afford to live in such neighborhoods. So we live not on College Hill but a mile or so farther north in the outer reaches of the East Side (which many people think is a synonym for College Hill). The historic districts that are so beloved and hence so expensive are no more than regular prewar neighborhoods – really nothing special about them. Build more lovely traditional neighborhoods (in many places laws must be passed making them bloody legal again) and the prices will come down. I promise.

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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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