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In September 2019, an application appeared before the Downtown Design Review Committee for a 12-story mixed-use development at the corner of Chestnut and Elbow Streets in the Jewelry District. Following an appeal, the DDRC’s decision to grant a 30% height bonus was reversed and in December 2020 the applicant received unanimous conceptual and final design approval for a 10-story mixed-use building at 151-155 Chestnut Street.

PPS does not oppose the design of this modular construction high-rise in the Jewelry District. In fact, it would be a welcome addition and exciting infill. We do find the proposed location, requiring demolition and shoehorning between two rare surviving residential buildings to be wholly inappropriate when the Jewelry District and the neighboring I-195 Redevelopment District are full of available—and vacant—parcels.

The historic neighbors to this development site are the Arthur B. and Laura Weeks House (1886) at 29 Elbow Street and the Samuel Lewis House (c. 1825), also known as the (mayor) Thomas A. Doyle House, at 137 Chestnut Street. The Weeks House, comprising a restrained and classically detailed body and mansard roof, is notable as the only original and continually used private residence in the district. The Lewis-Doyle House is a modest Federal style dwelling in brick, which is unusual but explained by Samuel Lewis being a mason. One of few surviving Federal residential buildings west of the Providence River, the former house has hosted manufacturing and commercial uses for a century now and has a two-story addition (1951) to the rear. Both the Weeks and Lewis houses have PPS historic markers and contribute to the Providence Jewelry Manufacturing Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Slated for demolition are the Pilgrim Manufacturing Co. Building (1941) at 155 Chestnut and a less prominent commercial accessory at 151 Chestnut. What is not visible is the already lost Pardon Clarke House (c.1823), a Federal period side-hall frame dwelling. It was unnecessarily demolished in 2009; today the lot is surface parking.

While the 10½ -story Doran Building (1907; 150 Chestnut Street) stands across the street, good planning practice dictates that infill at 155 Chestnut would provide a better transition in height from its direct abutters. We also believe that the miraculous survival of the Federal and Victorian residences deserves more deferential and sensitive treatment and a sympathetically designed new neighbor. Demolition of the perfectly useful commercial structure at 155 Chestnut is unnecessary and wasteful. That does not mean that the surface parking lots flanking it cannot be repopulated with appropriately scaled buildings. We strongly urge the developer to reconsider the location of this proposed development and thus maintain the desirable quaintness of Elbow Street and the integrity of the adjacent buildings.

155 Chestnut and 29 Elbow

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© 2023 Guide to Providence Architecture. All rights reserved. Design by J. Hogue at Highchair designhaus, with development & support by Kay Belardinelli.