Richard Upjohn’s design for Anne Brown Francis and Marshall Woods, contemporary with but so palpably different visually from his work at nearby St Stephen’s Church, is a severely restrained composition tacitly in the Italian Renaissance palazzo mode so predominant in the mid-nineteenth century, but articulated here in the abstraction that’s almost haunting. Located at the crest of College Hill, with commanding views to the west (now blocked by overgrown trees down the hill), this was the first house in this neighborhood built to exploit the prominent hilltop site. On the inside, the plan’s been mucked about more than once, but the sense of the suite of public rooms along the west side, for views across the terrace, still conveys a sense of what the young couple built and why they built it here.
In 1931 this became the home of U.S. Senator Peter Goelet Gerry, and RISD acquired the house from private owners a few years after his death. The school’s plans to demolish the building touched off one of the most highly emotional preservation debates the community has ever seen. But we see here who won. It’s now RISD administrative headquarters, with student art galleries on the first floor.
– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture
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