The New Old Arcade

I dig old buildings. I dig new ones too, but I find it particularly satisfying when an older, say 40-year-old or more, structure endures and remains a viable part of our everyday lives.

Older buildings bring a tactile and personal gravitas that newer ones have yet to earn. Perhaps this is similar to how you might regard a long-time friend differently from a more recent one.

Of course any building must stay relevant to last. People must come and go to it on a regular basis. It must have purpose and utility. And it better have Wi-Fi. All of this makes it stay alive—and matter.

The Arcade located in the Financial District in Providence, RI delivers on all of those qualities.

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Historically Speaking
Built in 1828, this three-story structure is the oldest indoor mall in the US. It recently reopened as a mixed-use facility after an extensive modernization. The owners honored the building’s architectural past while also updating it to make it a classy, go-to destination that meets today’s needs.

The ground floor, awash in natural light from the glass ceiling, consists of retail space occupied by diverse local vendors. I saw shops devoted to jewelry, paper goods, bikes, high end consignment items, male and female clothing, and more. There is also more than one spot to grab a coffee, drink, or something to eat.

Not one national chain store was in sight.

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Floors 2 and 3 are residential lofts. Be warned: If you’re interested in signing on to the waiting list, you better be patient. The Arcade’s director of outreach and client relations informed me the list is already quite long.

Made to Last
I heartily embrace knowing that real people have lived, breathed, laughed, cried, bought, sold—engaged in life!—in this very location for a very long time. In this case, for almost 200 years.

Before I departed, I placed my hand on the building’s exterior wall and peered down the busy street. I was standing in the same spot that someone in an earlier era would have seen horse drawn carriages pulling up to drop off eager shoppers.

I know I am being sentimental, but this makes me feel more connected to humanity than the many invisible electronic links that seemingly bind us together today. The ribbon of life that is our past, present, and future seems more tangible and less fleeting when I can physically relate to it on a level like this.

This Way In
Speaking of the exterior: The weathered granite walls and immense Ionic columns at the front and back entrances may remind you more of a stern courthouse or museum than a vibrant commercial and residential building. But that’s okay.

I have a feeling once warmer weather sets in, the sidewalk planters will be verdantly filled and colorful flags will furl in motion beckoning even more visitors to enter (the poles and rope are already in place). This will certainly soften the seriousness of the entryways.

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So this is yet another victory for architectural restoration. I say a loud thank you to the building’s current caretakers and tenants. I applaud their reverence for our historical past and earnest embrace of today’s sensibilities and promise. Well done all around!

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So what about you?
Do you feel strong connections to any physical structures that have endured over time? Do you believe the buildings being constructed today—if they still exist in 50 or 100 years—will resonate with future visitors similar to my experience at the Arcade?

Additional Photos

Arcade website:

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Filed under Architecture, Providence

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