America’s Oldest Mall Converted Into Micro-Apartments

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The Westminster Arcade, also known as the Providence Arcade, in Providence, Rhode Island, was opened in 1828 as America’s first enclosed shopping mall, a concept that was found in some European cities but was not yet popular in the US. Designed by architects Russell Warren and James Bucklin, the building features six massive Ionic columns topped by a triangular pediment, and looked more like an ancient Greek temple than a shopping mall. Behind this striking granite front are open vestibule areas in three levels that were once occupied by numerous shops. Richly decorated cast iron railings capped in mahogany protected the balconies in the upper levels while a glass gable roof filled the atrium with natural light.

The mall fell into hard times after the economic collapse of 2008, and was almost destined for the wrecking ball when the owners decided to turn the property into a residential building instead.


Photo credit: Northeast Collaborative Architects

The $7 million renovation project, which completed in 2013, saw the mall’s upper floors converted into a total of forty-eight micro-apartments with a floor size between 225 to 450 square feet. These fully furnished apartments features bathrooms, built-in beds, seating, storage, as well as kitchens equipped with refrigerators, sinks, dishwashers, and microwaves. There are also on-site laundry, bike storage, and locked basement storage units that apartment owners can share with their neighbors. The ground floor continues to function as a mall.

When Westminster Arcade was built, the design had only two floors of shops, but a third floor was added to the plans before construction began. As a result the third floor had crammed spaces and was somewhat crowded. And for some reason, shoppers were reluctant to trudge up the stairs to the upper floors. Even when the shopping center was operating under full capacity, it was not making money. Shops were opening and closing all the time.

The shopping mall underwent several renovation, once in 1940 to correct some of the structures added hastily to provide access to the last-minute third floor. In 1976, the arcade was designated a National Historic Landmark. Four years later, it underwent another renovation, but it didn’t help much and the businesses continued to struggle. Westminster Arcade eventually closed its doors in 2008.

Micro-apartments provided the arcade’s owners the best possible option to save the historic landmark. This new housing trend has grown in popularity in recent years especially in the United Kingdom, Poland, and China, before it arrived in some American cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, and Providence.

The apartments at Westminster Arcade sold out within months of opening. Rents start at $550 a month.

Also read: Highbury Square: A 93-Year-Old Football Stadium Converted Into Apartments


Photo credit: Northeast Collaborative Architects


Photo credit: Northeast Collaborative Architects


Photo credit: Northeast Collaborative Architects


Photo credit: Northeast Collaborative Architects


Photo credit: Northeast Collaborative Architects

Sources: Curbed / Wikipedia /

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