Butler Exchange // 1871-1925

This magnificent structure formerly in Downtown Providence would likely still exist today had a devastating fire not destroyed it in 1925. When construction on the Butler Exchange began 1871, the area we know today as Downtown was only a cluster of small wooden and brick residences with commercial operations on the ground floors; the key retail shopping districts were across the river around where Brown University is today. The first major commercial development in modern-day Downtown was the Providence Arcade (featured previously), built in 1828, by Cyrus Butler. The Arcade languished in tenants and shoppers earning it the name, “Butler’s Folly”. A half-century later, a new Butler project was about to take off. Cyrus’ heirs built the Butler Exchange, which upon completion in 1873, was the largest building in Providence and its splendid French-inspired two-story mansard roof was a nice pairing with the City Hall being built nearby. The Butler Exchange saw commercial use, offices, and a school before a fire destroyed much of the building, leading to its demolition. The building was later replaced by the Industrial National Bank Building aka the “Superman Building”.

Image Courtesy of Providence Public Library collections.

Owen Building // 1866

The Owen Building sits on the edge of Downtown Providence, near the Providence River which divides College Hill from Downtown. This mansard roofed commercial building is one of the finest in the city and was designed by architect Alfred Stone for George and Smith Owen (G. & S. Owen), whose sons operated a wholesale yarn business on the premises. In 1877 Stone, as Stone & Carpenter, returned to remodel the building, seemingly adding the mansard roof and much decorative trim on the new north facade. The building retains its cast-iron storefront and prominent siting as a lasting example of 19th century architectural heritage.

Earle Building // 1895

The Earle Building in Downtown Providence, Rhode Island is an architectural anomaly. The structure was built in 1895 and is a stunning example of the Second Empire style of architecture, best characterized by the iconic Mansard roof. The Second Empire style surged in popularity from the 1860s-1880s, but really fell off in popularity when historic revival styles took over (Renaissance, Colonial, and Classical). William H. Earle built this structure in 1895 to house his business, Earle & Prew, General Express Forwarders. Earle & Prew dealt exclusively with at least half a dozen local train and steamship lines, and held offices in this building well into the 20th century. The building today is one of the better-preserved structures downtown, which provides architectural intrigue and design that is of human scale.