The stretch of Thayer Street south from Bowen to Waterman Street is a dynamic mix of commercial buildings, one and two stories high, that were built as part of a neighborhood shopping area at the turn of the last century when such commercial clusterings sprang up in most American cities. The buildings constructed for the neighborhood, including such staples as food market, drug store, and gift shop, are still here but their occupants have changed drastically. The buildings that line these blocks are usually unremarkable, but they represent one of the best of many such ensembles in Providence. The Newport Collaborative’s [now Northeast Collaborative] 271 Thayer Street dates from the mid-1990s (and replaces an iconic International House of Pancakes) and constitutes a nice urbanistic addition to this streetscape. The Avon Theatre, originally the Toy Theatre (so apt a name for small neighborhood theatre that one almost wishes for its return), was designed by William R. Walker & Son and constructed in 1915, but what you’ll find on the inside is the 1938 Moderne remodeling nicely restored in the early 1990s. At 178-180 Angell Street, the northeast corner of Angell and Thayer Streets, is the delightful Tudor Revival E.P. Anthony Drug Store (1895), designed by Franklin J. Sawtelle, which retained its original storefront occupant into the 1980s and its commercial original interior into the 1990s; only recently did fluorescent lights and back-lit signs thoughtlessly replace the mahogany shelving. Just the reverse occurred across the street, at 244 Thayer Street, with the Brown University Office Building and Bookstore; this timid pseudo-Brutalist building was perceived as “unfriendly” by Andres Duany, the architect planner invited to Providence to offer suggestions about visual and use problems on Thayer Street. Duany’s recommendations included storefront improvements here, but the introduction of a Dryvit neo-traditional storefront in dark green is akin to making over a punkster by giving him a pair of knickers. This lively strip’s pleasant southern terminus at 214-218 Thayer Street is the Medical Arts Building (1938), a modest, but unusual-for-Providence Moderne commercial block.
– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture
NOTE: Many changes have taken place on Thayer Street since 2003. The text has not been updated to reflect those changes.
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