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The Arcade

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1828, James C. Bucklin and Russell Warren. 1978–1980, restoration-renovation, Irving B. Haynes and Associates. 65 Weybosset St. through to 130 Westminster St.

The Arcade, financed and built by local merchant Cyrus Butler and the Arcade Corporation, remains one of the key Greek Revival monuments in the country. It is the only remaining American arcade in the style, although it followed the precedent of enclosed shopping arcades in the Greek manner in Europe and, closer to home, those by John Haviland in New York and Philadelphia. James Bucklin and Russell Warren studied Haviland's arcades, both of which are gone. The south (Weybosset Street) elevation retains the stepped parapeting of the portico originally intended for both elevations. Revisions to the building program after construction began resulted in the addition of a third story of shops and a triangular pediment to the north (Westminster Street) elevation facing toward the heart of the city. (Although the true reason for the change remains a mystery, the theory of a friendly “competition” between the two designers is now generally discounted.) Remarkably, the cylinders for the Ionic columns in antis are granite monoliths hauled by oxen from Johnston quarries some twenty miles away. Rubble party walls connect the granite porticoes. These walls are not contained within the narrow rectangle the Arcade appears to occupy, but project as stubby wings on either side near the center, making the plan of the Arcade not rectangular, but a stubby-armed cross.

The interior is little changed in essence, despite modifications in detail. Especially worth notice is the stepping back of the three floor levels so that each opens directly to the skylight above, with the space of the ground-floor corridor expanding outward as one looks up. The enlivening counterplay between Greek-inspired ornament and the broad wall surfaces typical of the Greek Revival style is brilliantly evident here in the filigree of cast iron and wrought iron hand railings set against the austere geometry of the masonry. The bridge across the center and upper-story shop fronts was added in the nineteenth century, modified in the twentieth, and retained in the 1978–1980 restoration partly because no images of the original interior have been found and partly to retain what is in itself a charming modification. In the restoration similar shop fronts on the ground floors were opened up by folding screens to create flow through a mix of eateries which merchandisers wanted; fortunately this arrangement could also be justified by accounts stating that a comparable marketlike openness did, in fact, characterize what was initially there.

The sensitivity of the restoration is evident not only in what was brought back and what was adapted, but also in what is evidently new, like the handsome redesign of the floor pattern. Especially challenging is the enclosure by glass walls of what, previous to the rehabilitation, was draftily open. Many feared the enclosures would become a coarse, disruptive barrier; but it is worth examining how elegantly and unobtrusively they are fitted to the building, even elegantly curved to the outside of the columns with which they are aligned in order to preserve the integrity of their cylindrical shapes. Making no apologies for their modernity and handsome in themselves, the glass enclosures deserve to be honored because of the honor they bring to their task.

Directly across the street, the reticent screening of a parking garage (1980s, Gilbane Building Company) by a local construction firm can be commended. Opposite this, at 45–53 Weybosset Street, is another restored Victorian commercial block, Halls Building (1876, refurbished 1981), severely brick and stone trimmed with another fine cast iron storefront.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.
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Citation

William H. Jordy et al., "The Arcade", [Providence, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/RI-01-PR18.

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 46-47.

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