The Brown University News Bureau
38 Brown Street / Box R
Providence, RI 02912
401 / 863-2476
Fax: 401 / 863-9595
1995-1996 index

Distributed August 24, 1995
Contact: Mark Nickel

A $12-million restoration project for Providence

Brown buys Old Stone Bank building to house the Haffenreffer Museum

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Brown University has agreed to acquire the historic Old Stone Bank building and Benoni Cooke House from the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC) as part of a plan to relocate one of New England's leading museums of anthropology to downtown Providence, according to an announcement today by Brown President Vartan Gregorian and Providence Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. The RTC has said the purchase price will not be released until the pending agreement becomes a final sale later this year.

The gold-domed bank building, a fixture of the Providence cityscape since the turn of the century, will be the centerpiece of a facility that will provide galleries, storage areas, offices, public education space and a bookstore for the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, currently housed on the University's Mount Hope grant in Bristol, R.I. Brown will seek funding for nearly $12 million in acquisition, restoration, renovation and new construction and will begin a public fund-raising project next year. The University has given itself three years to raise the funds and undertake the renovation and construction needed to bring the museum to Providence.

"It is our ardent hope that moving the museum to the Old Stone property will involve the University more deeply in the cultural and economic life of downtown Providence," Gregorian said. "The city's rich ethnic and cultural diversity makes Providence an appropriate permanent home for the Haffenreffer's collections, and the museum's long-standing commitment to education and outreach will make the Old Stone site a great asset for Providence schools. I am delighted that this exciting project is moving forward."

"Brown is establishing a presence downtown, and I am excited about the myriad opportunities that the Haffenreffer will offer in its new location in our capital city," Cianci said. "Once the museum opens in the Old Stone Bank building, the boundaries of our terrific Arts and Entertainment District will expand, adding a unique, eclectic and educational dimension for residents and tourists to explore. The resurgence of downtown Providence is based upon our ability to blend our resplendent past with bold, new ventures, and the Haffenreffer Museum is representative of each. It's a plus for Providence, and I welcome Brown's investment in our city."

The move to downtown Providence will have significant benefits for both the museum and the city. Although the museum hosts as many as 6,000 schoolchildren and 9,000 other visitors per year, its remote location in Bristol - 18 miles from Providence - limits accessibility. The museum's collections outgrew the current facility long ago, so that only a fraction of its 100,000 artifacts can be displayed at any one time. The Old Stone site will allow the museum to make more of its collections available to a much larger audience, particularly Providence schoolchildren.

The move will also benefit downtown Providence by securing the future of a magnificent historic "signature" building and by adding a nationally renowned museum to the city's growing arts and entertainment district. Several other significant museums and cultural centers will be coming to Providence, including the Children's Museum of Rhode Island and the new Rhode Island Heritage Center, to be established on the former site of the South Street electric station, which will be home to a dozen museums. The relocation of the Haffenreffer Museum has drawn praise from business, civic and restoration groups.

"Brown's decision to acquire these historic buildings will help breathe new life into the heart of the city and bolster Providence and Rhode Island as major cultural and tourist destinations," said Lawrence K. Fish, chairman and chief executive officer of Citizens Financial Group Inc. Citizens purchased the deposits of the failed Old Stone Bank from the government in 1994 and has worked with the RTC over the last year to ensure the appropriate care and reuse of the historic gold dome building, Citizens officials said.

The Old Stone Bank property

The Old Stone Bank building dates from 1898, when the Providence architectural firm of Stone Carpenter and Willson enlarged the original facility, designed in 1854 by C.J. and J.R. Hall. Stone Carpenter and Willson was the city's dominant architectural design firm until its dissolution in 1908. The building has remained almost unchanged, except for a brick addition to the rear in the mid-1950s.

In addition to the gold-domed building, the Old Stone site includes other historic structures. The Benoni Cooke House, a large Federal-style residence built in 1828, served as an office and branch bank for the Providence Institute for Savings (later the Old Stone Bank). Its first floor has been substantially modernized, and a "greenhouse" style addition was added to the first floor west facade in 1982.

The Old Stone Bank building and the Benoni Cooke House are in generally good condition with some water damage to the interior of the bank, according to Ann Beha Associates Inc., a Boston architectural firm specializing in historic preservation, which has been the University's primary consultant for the project. The site also includes a carriage house, which is in poor condition and will require substantial rebuilding.

The Benoni Cooke House and the Old Stone Bank building are located within a National Register District and the College Hill Historic District, designated by the Providence Historic District Commission. They entered the RTC's conservatorship program in January 1993 and entered receivership in July 1994. Brown has been working on a negotiated sale with RTC for the last 10 months.

After the sale has become final, the University will conduct a design competition to select an architect to oversee renovation and new construction. In addition, Gregorian will appoint an advisory committee of local and national experts to advise the University on the renovation of the site and relocation of the Haffenreffer Museum.

Renovation and new construction

Brown's acquisition and renovation of the Old Stone site could be accomplished in phases for a total cost of between $11 and $12 million, according to preliminary plans drawn up by Ann Beha Associates Inc. The plans call for four major parts to the new Haffenreffer Museum campus:

The Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology

The Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, originally the King Philip Museum, was founded in the early 1900s as the private collection of Rudolf F. Haffenreffer. Initially focusing on local archaeological materials (the Mount Hope Grant in Bristol served as headquarters for the 17th century Wampanoag chief Metacom, also known as King Philip), the collection expanded to include artifacts from much of the New World when the museum opened to the public in 1928. Upon Haffenreffer's death in 1955, the family donated the museum and the 375-acre Mount Hope Grant to Brown University, and the museum was renamed in Haffenreffer's honor. The collection has since become worldwide in scope.

Among the 100,000 objects in its collections, the Haffenreffer Museum has cataloged several major ethnographic collections:

Other catalogued collections are archaeological, including: The museum also maintains a research library of approximately 10,000 volumes. Its active publishing enterprise and the extensive research use by scholars of materials in its collections have given the Haffenreffer Museum a reputation as a small museum of excellent quality and usefulness.

"The Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology is one of Rhode Island's best-kept secrets," said Shepard Krech III, the Haffenreffer's director. "It is a museum for all people, with collections that speak to the heritage of many different ethnic groups. In Providence, the museum will build on its strengths, quickly expanding its ties to the public through enhanced education and outreach programs and more visible exhibitions. Moving to South Main Street offers advantages to the museum, the city and the University that are almost incalculable."

The Mount Hope Grant

Brown University uses its Mount Hope Grant property as a major environmental and biological laboratory as well as a center for outings, retreats and other gatherings. Faculty members conduct on-going research programs on plant life, ecological systems, and estuarial and marine life. The University will continue to develop these important research purposes for the site after the relocation of the museum to Providence. The University also recognizes and respects the natural and historical value of the Mount Hope Grant and has no plans that would alter the current character of the property.

Other documents available from the Brown News Bureau

95-005a - Background on the Haffenreffer Museum and collections 95-005b - Statements from community leaders and organizations

Other documents

Watercolor renditions and an original architectural cross-sectional drawing are part of the collection of the Rhode Island Historical Society, 401/331-8575.