The renovation of the Case-Mead Building in downtown Providence was among several projects named last week in the 2018 Rhody Awards. The awards, bestowed by Preserve Rhode Island and the R.I. Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission, recognize individuals, organizations and projects for contributions to the historical makeup of the state.
The Case-Mead Building, on a prominent corner at 76 Dorrance St., was built in 1859. It once held a variety of tenants, according to historical research, including an infantry hall, cigar stores, a haberdashery, a business called Toomey’s One Arm lunchroom, which featured one-armed tables meant for a quick bite, and a Turkish smoking parlor. The fifth floor was added in 1906.
In a recent response, Case-Mead owner Joseph R. Paolino Jr., of Paolino Properties, talked about the building.
PBN: Tell me what you can about the history of the building, before Paolino Properties acquired it. Were you aware that it once had a Turkish parlor, which was apparently a lounge where women could smoke cigarettes?
PAOLINO: My father bought the building 50 years ago in 1968. 76 Dorrance St. served as our family’s business headquarters until we moved to 100 Westminster St. in 2014. I wasn’t aware of the Turkish parlor, but the building is definitely nonsmoking now. Knowing that the Turkish parlor was there makes for a bit of poetic justice.
PBN: When did the company determine that the building needed, and could support, a whole-scale renovation?
PAOLINO: In 2016, a letter came in from the state notifying the company that we were eligible to receive a state Historic Preservation Tax Credit. That was the single biggest factor motivating us to do the renovation when we did. Without those tax credits, the project could not have happened. Working with Washington Trust as our bank and the city, all of the pieces came together to make this project viable.
It was really meaningful to me on a personal level to receive the federal and state historic tax credits because my very first position in public service was in historic preservation. At 19, Mayor Joseph Doorley appointed me to the Providence Historic District Committee and I learned a lot about historic preservation in the city. It felt like coming full-circle.
PBN: What is the current status of the 44 apartments? Are they still available or fully leased?
PAOLINO: We are currently 100 percent rented. We had two vacancies, but we just signed leases on the final units this past week, so now we are at full occupancy.
PBN: Have you attracted tenants to the ground floor space?
PAOLINO: We are talking to a number of retail and restaurant tenants and have shown the space to some very interested restaurants. Right now, we’re communicating with them and multitasking to make sure those commercial spaces are filled.
PBN: The exterior paint coordination was cited in the award. How did you choose the dramatic colors? Were they the original scheme or a new combination?
PAOLINO: We worked closely with the R.I. Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission to pick the exterior colors. We wanted it to reflect the building’s history.
Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.