The Arcade is a 3-story, stucco rubble Greek Revival structure that provides both a covered walkway, and a commercial center in between Weybosset and Westminster streets in downtown Providence. The building began construction in 1827, and was completed in 1828 under original owners Cyrus Butler and the Arcade Corporation. The designs for the structure by architects Russell Warren and James Bucklin are a fine example of the Greek Revival style, which uncompromisingly implemented a modern interior plan.
The Arcade's exterior offers two temple front facades with varying pediments on each of the parallel streets it connects. Both facades consist of hexa-style porticos supported by six grand columns of granite with smooth shafts and Iconic capitals, staircases allowing access to upper levels, and twice-set back interior facades that can be seen from the porticos. The facade on Westminster Street, attributed to Warren, culminates in a pediment, while that on Weybosset Street, attributed to Bucklin, has a stepped parapet. While local papers compared the Providence Arcade to European projects, it was really modeled after the American arcades of architect John Haviland, notably the one he designed in New York.
The interior of the building is covered by a sky lit gable roof supported by rafters at equal intervals, allowing sunlight to flood the Arcade. It was originally designed to stand only two stories tall, until 1827 when plans were altered to reduce the height of each story and add a third. The Arcade's space widens as it rises, allowing for a view of all concourses, and enabling each shop and office to be directly illuminated. The ground floor shop windows are slightly convex, like those of the Burlington Arcade in London. The second floor space, which widens by approximately 1.5 meters on each side, contains galleries with cast-iron railings that are connected by bridges in the middle of the structure, and on the ends before two fluted columns framing a view of the streets. The shops on the second floor are less deep than those on the ground floor, and have angularly projecting display areas. The third floor, like the second, is also set back on either side, but its gallery runs the entire length around the columns placed at each end. The windows of the shops and small offices originally housed on the third floor have small, narrow panes, a common feature of the time. The interior façade is crowned with a continuous cornice, at which the curving base of the glass-roof structure begins. A ridgepole with the inscription 1828 and the name of the arcade marks the structure's end.
The Arcade proved to be more aesthetically triumphant than it was commercially. The spaces remained only partially filled for several years after the building's opening, and consumers were reluctant to stray far from Cheapside, Providence's traditional shopping district. The Providence Athenaeum occupied rooms 42 and 43 from 1831 until 1838, and the organization's move left behind an additional 26 retail spaces, for a total of 78. Only in 1870 was the Arcade finally able to rent out 90% of its capacity.
Aside from its economic woes, the Arcade gave a sense of civic pride to local community members, who in turn worked to prevent its demolition in 1944, and who continue to work for its preservation today. In fact, the Providence Arcade is the only one left standing out of four early arcades built in the United States during the 19 th century. In 1970, the Metropolitan Museum of Art included the Providence Arcade in its exhibition, "The Rise of an American Architecture," and in 1976 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark. In 1980, the building was substantially remodeled and rehabilitated by architects Irving B. Haynes & Associates and developer Gilbane Co. in an award-winning project to enhance its economic viability. Thus, the Arcade continues to stand gracefully as one of the nation's finest examples of Greek Revival architecture, and a reminder of the highly fashionable Providence of the mid-1800s.
McKenzie Woodward and Edward F. Sanderson, Providence: A Citywide Survey of Historical Resources (Providence: Rhode Island Historical Preservation Society, 1986), 238.
William Jordy and Christopher Monkhouse (Ed.), Buildings on Paper: Rhode Island Architectural Drawings 1825-1943 (Providence: Rhode Island Historical Preservation Society, 1982), 191-192.
Johann Friedrich Geist, Arcades: The History of a Building Type (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1983), 539-542.
" The Old Stone Bank " in History of Rhode Island : Volume 1, presented by Providence Institute for Savings (Providence: Haley and Sykes Co., 1929), 80-81.
Frederic Denison, The Past and the Present: Narragansett Sea and Shore: An Illustrated Guide to Providence, Newport, Narragansett Pier, Block Island, Watch Hill, Rocky Point, Silver Spring and all the Famous Sea-Side Resorts of Rhode Island with a Map of Narragansett Bay (Providence: J.A. and R.A. Reid, 1879), 19.