PLACE TO BE: Members of the San Diego-based band Switchfoot chose The Dean for lodging when they were in Providence for a show in March. Above, audio technician Travis Bing, left, speaks with bassist Tim Foreman.
PBN PHOTO/TRACY JENKINS
By Rhonda J. Miller PBN Staff Writer
There’s an inscription in stone on the front of The Dean hotel in Providence that reads: “Church house erected AD 1912 to the Glory of God.”
That glory to God was probably a clear goal when it was first built, before the building slid toward decidedly less-religious pursuits.
“It was built by the Episcopal Diocese. It had a chapel on the ground floor. It was like a settlement house where people lived until they got back on their feet,” said Ari Heckman, who grew up in Providence and is the designer and one of the owners of The Dean. “Then in the 20s and 30s it was a hotel and the guests were often actors in town for vaudeville theater.
“In the ’60s and ’70s it was a gentlemen’s club, [the Sportsman’s Inn], with a brothel above,” said Heckman, who now has a Brooklyn-based development and design firm, ASH NYC. “I was looking around for a property and someone brought to my attention that the notorious Sportsman’s Inn was for sale. I remember well from my childhood I was absolutely told to stay away from there.”
Things are much more genteel now in the Fountain Street building housing The Dean, which Heckman found “charming, with good bones.”
The ambiance that now pervades The Dean is hip, trendy, artsy and relaxed, yet sophisticated.
The vision for The Dean, echoed by those who are part of its creation and workforce, is that: “It’s a hotel by Providence, for Providence.”
The bed frames, including a few bunk beds offered as an affordable way to entice families with kids, wedding parties or groups of former classmates, are by Iron Origami, a fabrication shop owned by Rhode Island School of Design graduate Nate Nadeau. Concrete elephants in the hotel were cast and fabricated by another RISD grad, Will Reeves. The Steel Yard did the exterior metal work. Providence-based Lotuff Leather created the guest directories. The Magdalenae Room hotel bar is by Providence restaurateur Mike Sears.
Bolt Coffee in the hotel lobby is the first permanent shop, after mostly doing special events, for local Bryan Gibb, whose dual mission is to serve hotel guests and “create a place for locals to come and hang out.”