Building Description The Arcade, Providence Rhode Island

The Arcade, a Greek Revival structure built to house shops and offices, traverses the center of a downtown block, from 130, Westminster Street to 65, Weybosset Street, in Providence. It was built in 1828 by Cyrus C. Butler jointly with The Arcade Realty Company, Russell Warren and Major James C. Bucklin, Jr., being collaborating architects.

Built throughout of local granite, with the visible walls of smooth-faced regular coursed ashlar, it is a long (216 feet) gable-roofed building with short lateral wings near its center and a massive hexastyle portico at each end. The granite Ionic columns of the porticoes are monolithic; the scale is monumental. (These columns, brought from Bare Ledge Quarry in Johnston, Rhode Island, remained the largest monolithic shafts in this country, until those of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York).

The Westminster Street (north) front, an Ionic pedimented portico, was designed by Janes Bucklin for Cyrus Butler, the original entrepreneur. Russell Warren, who designed the Weybosset Street (south) facade, was engaged by The Arcade Realty Company. For this front, Warren employed an unpedimented portico with a panelled attic parapet, a scheme he used in variant forms for several of his later buildings.

The interior space, three stories high, has lengthwise banks of shops facing each other; the upper levels are reached by twin flights of stairs at each end. The stairs connect with galleries running across the end of the building and along its sides, in front of the ranges of shops. These galleries, enclosed by handsome, original cast iron railings, are in turn connected (at second-floor level only) by a central cross-gallery or bridge. Originally the shop-fronts of the first and second floors were composed of windows and doors separated by projecting pilasters which concealed shutters folded back when the shops were open. This scheme was altered in 1901, and again when repairs were made in 1944 and the present first- and second-floor shop-fronts were installed. The shop windows of the third story, however, are still finished with their original simple Greek Revival detail. The low gable roof, set above a wide, coved cornice has a long range of glazed skylights, which are set in iron sashes supported and separated by wooden rafters.

The building remained in partial ownership of the Butler heirs until 1944. Threatened with demolition, it was purchased from them in that year to insure its preservation as an historic monument; it was then deeded to the Rhode Island Association for the Blind as caretaker of The Arcade and recipient of its rental income. At that time the building underwent a fairly comprehensive structural renewal, including some alterations such as the mentioned changes in the shop-fronts. Glazed walls and gates were then also installed across the inner faces of the porticoes to allow for nighttime protection of the internal business premises. None of these changes (such as the more recent installation of an elevator in one wing) has really had any important effect on the over-all exterior or interior appearance of the building.