Located on Harvard Avenue, which was originally called the “Road to the Colleges” in Coolidge Corner, the Brookline Arcade is one of the greatest commercial buildings in Brookline. As the residential character of Harvard Street began to turn more commercial in the 1920s, additional small commercial spaces were needed for the growing surrounding residential neighborhoods, and developer J. J. Johnston sought to maximize his parcel there. He hired architect George N. Jacobs, a relatively unknown architect in Boston who creatively designed the site.
Measuring 80′ in width and 150′ in depth, the two-story cast stone Commercial Gothic style building consists of five bays, with two store fronts on either side of the central arcade entrance. Above the storefronts, a stone frieze and gothic spires project upwards, standing out among the more traditional buildings nearby. At the interior, you walk to a modest single-story lobby which opens to a full-height arcade with vaulted skylight above. Stores line both sides of the space and many have original storefront designs and features. The space is a smaller version of the Westminster (Providence) Arcade.
One of the most unique buildings in Downtown Providence is the Providence Arcade (sometimes referred to as the Westminster Arcade), built in 1828. Thought to be the first enclosed shopping mall in the United States, the Greek Revival structure runs the full length between Westminster and Weybosset Streets. Designed by Russell Warren, who was one of the premier architects at the time, the two street-facing sides of the building consist of Greek temple fronts, with six massive Ionic columns. The columns on the Westminster Street side are topped by a triangular pediment; the Weybosset Street side has a block-and-panel railing above a simple entablature.
The interior consists of a main avenue on the ground floor, above which the second and third floor lanes are protected by richly decorated cast iron railings capped in mahogany. Emphasis in all of the building’s construction was on the use of fireproof materials; granite, brick, and cast iron are all used, and the roof was made of tin. A gabled skylight extends the length of the space to provide ample natural light for the multi-level interior spaces.
As with many traditional shopping centers (no matter how well designed), the complex saw financial difficulties and diminishing patrons. The Arcade closed a number of times in the 20th century, most recently in 2008 to reconfigure the third floor spaces as micro-apartments, an innovative way to bring mixed-use principals to a historic mall.