By Robin Amer
Providence Phoenix | April 29, 2005
Starting in December 2005, units will be available in Westfield Lofts, formerly the Rau Fastener mill complex, on Dexter Street near the Cranston Street Armory. The West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation is the force behind the $15 million rehab project, remaking the 1890 mill complex into 69 one- and two-bedroom lofts. Upon completion, Westfield Lofts will be the city’s only CDC-sponsored mill redevelopment effort, offering units of low-income housing, and moderate-income units far cheaper than other loft projects in town.
The project is almost 10 years in the making. Sharon Conard-Wells, West Elmwood’s executive director, says the seeds were planted in 1997, when neighborhood residents asked her, “What are you going to do with this thing in the middle of the neighborhood?” Her response was “We don’t do mills.” But neighbors felt so strongly that they presented petitions and letters to West Elmwood’s board, in hopes it would tackle the four-story, 109,000-square-foot building.
Westfield Lofts will consist of 22 affordable one- and two-bedroom rental units, starting at a monthly rent of $498, a price bounded by the tax credits used to partially finance the project. Prospective tenants must meet federal low-income guidelines. There will also be 47 one- and two-bedroom units renting at between $850 and $1300 a month – about half the price of similar lofts being developed downtown and in other mill redevelopment projects.
Conard-Wells says the mixed-income rent structure will benefit neighborhood families who make too much to qualify for low-income housing, but need help on their way to home ownership. The affordable units will be mixed in with the other units, rather than clustered in one section of the building.
The mill rehab is the first phase of the CDC’s bigger plans for the area. An adjacent mill building will eventually be converted into office space. A large vacant lot behind the property will be turned into 24 townhouses, and lots across Dexter Street will be redeveloped into multi-family homes. Conard-Wells believes the efforts will improve people’s perception of the neighborhood. “I’m one of the first to say the neighborhood isn’t 100 percent of what it should be,” she says. “But I’m also one of the first to say it’s not nearly as bad as the perception. This project will help close the gap between perception and reality.” The project could also have a major impact on property values, Conard-Wells says, and on the investment current residents are willing to make in their own homes.
Asked how West Elmwood managed to finance such a project, she laughs, “I beg. I have no pride. I’ll ask for money all the time.” In reality, the organization pieced together multiple sources, including federal funds, low-income tax credits, US Environmental Protection Agency bucks for environmental remediation, a bridge loan from Bank of America, and help from such national groups as the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and Neighborworks America. Conard-Wells says project architects Durkee Brown Viveiros & Werenfels, which is receiving a percentage of the total construction costs, subordinated an increase in its fee when construction costs increased.
Low- and moderate-income artists are among those being targeted as residents, in hopes that their presence will accentuate the neighborhood’s positive characteristics. The units will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis, provided prospective renters’ credit checks out.
“;This is a really cool project,” says Laura Mullen of Rhode Island Citizens for the Arts’ Sustainable Artist Space Initiative. “I’m so impressed by Sharon and what they’ve been able to accomplish and how much thought they’ve been able to put into it.”
Mullen says the Rau Fastener project is proof that for all the cost and difficulty associated with turning old mill buildings into new housing, it is possible to create affordable spaces. “Sharon’s previous experience in the affordable housing world gave her all the skills to make this happen,” Mullen says. “Because she already knew the nonprofit affordable housing world... she also had access to funding and grants not available to for-profit developers. That’s part of the beauty of nonprofit developing.”
From ProvPlan.org: A large complex on the east side of Dexter Street at the corner of Dexter and Sprague streets. The complex consists of three parts: a three-story brick building facing Westfield Street (1890), a two-story brick factory building facing Dexter Street, and a four-story building (ADA Building) to the east. The Dexter Street factory building (1952) stands behind a paved lot on the east side of Dexter Street. It is a large, two-story, brick, rectangular structure with a flat roof. Several loading bays are located on the first floor level of the west elevation. Fenestration is comprised of rows of rectangular, fixed and awning windows. To the east is the three-story, brick block set perpendicular to the street. The building features segmental-arch window openings with a combination of multi-light sash and brick and wood infill with stone sills. A tall, brick smokestack with brick corbelling stands as a prominent feature of the complex. To the east is the four-story, gable-roof, L-shaped Loft building, which stands parallel to Sprague Street. This block features similar fenestration to the three-story block and features a one-story boiler room on its northwest side. A two-story, wood-frame building clad in metal sheathing stands on the north side of Westfield Street.
The earliest part of the complex is the ADA Building, which is identified by a datestone as having been constructed in 1892. By 1919, the property was occupied by Providence Lithograph which owned the 102 Westfield Street section. At that time, storage houses for Providence Lithograph were located at the Dexter Street side of the complex where the 1952 addition was constructed. On the Harrison Avenue side of the complex there was a neighboring building which housed the National Elastic and Webbing Company. Rau Fasteners, established in 1912, was the leading distributor of metal snap fasteners in the nation and played a large role in the Rhode Island economy. According to the Providence Journal, the company was founded by Lues Reiter. The 1929 directory identifies Rau Fastener at the 102 Westfield Street location, with a capitalization of $100,000 under the leadership of Lues Reiter, president, and James H. Arthur, secretary-treasurer. By 1949, the company was run by Harold J. Reiter, president, and Herman Reiter, treasurer.
A 30,000 square foot addition was made in 1952, greatly enhancing the size of the complex. By 1955 the complex appears as it does today. Rau Fasteners retained ownership of the property through to 1961. According to the Providence Journal, the complex was purchased by U.S. Industries in 1968. The property was transferred to Rau Fasteners, Inc. in 1985. The most recent owner is Rhode Island Industries.
Chris Padula May 29 2016 I worked at Rau from 1988 until Scovil bought it. Rau was my first job out of Hall Institute, I worked in the Drafting department. I’m glad to see something is being done with the buildings. I enjoyed my time at Rau and the people I worked with. Roland Gamarche, Eddie Ritchie, Anna Pertrangelo, Mary Lake and Richie Dantigo, I’m sure I spelled that last one wrong, just to name a few because I met so many great people I wish them all well. Louis Handwerger was the type of owner we need in this country, he cared about the people who worked for him not just the bottom line.
PU Shauber Apr 25 2016 I detected a RAU F. CO. PROV. R.I buckle on an agricultural area here in Bavaria. Maybe it was lost by an american soldier (and nearby i found an commemorative plate of the 90th Inf. Div. from 1945). Even the original leather loop still exists. Seems to be very good quality of producing!
russ newman Dec 18 2013 I worked on the night shift in the year 1967 and went to central high during the day. I was just a kid then,that fall I was at Fort Benning, Georgia, getting ready for Viet Nam. I found Rau Fastners good place for me to work while going to school, and there were some great people there.
Jerry Feb 24 2013 Is the Rau Fasteners the same company that made buckles for the military? The buckles are stamped R.A.U. These buckles were the type used with a 1 1/4 inch web belt
Mike Reid Jr. Nov 6 2012 I too worked at Rau Fastners with my father who just recently passed we worked in the (EYELET DEPT) for some years back in the mid 80s to mid 90s right across from us was the machines called the (Bairds) which Danny Carr used to run..My boss was Jack Toolin Ray Carr and it was the best times of mine and my fathers life. He talked about it right up till his dying day!!!... God Bless You Dad!!!... Michael D. Reid Sr... nickname (MICKEY)
Deb Bratone Oct 19 2012 Hey, Anybody know who the pimp in photo 8 is? My great grandfather used to run that building, he would of been pissed if he saw a pimp walking around there.
Joyce Klein (Stockman) Oct 4 2012 My father, Arthur Stockman worked at Rau for 22 years. I went with him most Saturdays when I was as young as 5 yrs. old. I remember my father would sit me down at a typewriter and he’d say hello by name to each and every person in the office and introduce me to them. Then he’d help me make zeroxes. I am 54 now and I miss my father every day since he passed away in 2009 of a long battle with leukemia.
Marilyn Bergman Gralnik Jun 5 2011 My great-grand father was Lues Reiter, my grand-father Harold J. Reiter. My dad Leonard Bergman worked for Rau over fifty years in sales, starting in New York and moving to Providence, RI when I was six in 1952. Louis Handwerger my uncle was President of Rau Fastner for many decades. I am delighted to see that Rau has been redeveloped into housing.I am going to visit Rau when I see my kids in RI this summer from south Fl where I live.
Jim Teitloff Dec 6 2010 I have just recently had a real good look at some small buckles that have a roller on one end and it appears to be on the wrong side or end. The buckles have a slight curve in them. They look brand new and look to be Brass and Black? Just wondering if they are of any value? maybe to a collector? They all have Rau F. Co., Prov. RI, on them.
KENNETH REITER Oct 19 2009 LUES REITER WAS MY GRAND FATHER, MORRIS WAS MY FATHER. I GREW UP AND WORKED IN THE NEW YORK CITY. THE NY SALES OFFICE WAS LOCATED AT 142 FITH AVENUE. WORKED IN SALES FROM 1960 UNTILL RAU WAS ACQUIRED BY SCOVILL IN 1997.
J.Finlaw Sep 11 2009 While metal detecting near some older homes in Ohio I recovered a vintage buckle stamped with RAU F. CO PROV RI. Thanks to your info I have a better idea of where and when it was manufactured.
Jean Cozzens Jun 12 2009 Among the belongings of my grandmother, who recently passed away at the age of 90, we found a gilt-leather evening purse, such as a teenage girl might take to a dance. Inside were: safety pins, a bobby pin, a paper ticket marked “Hat Check”, and a 1926 buffalo nickel... a really sweet grouping of forgotten objects. In examining the purse closer, I found that the snap said: “Rau Fastener Co.” As a Providence resident, familiar with the building and its redevelopment, I was excited to find the (somewhat tenuous!) Providence connection. My grandmother grew up in New Jersey outside of NYC, so that area is probably where the purse originated from... then she lived in Dallas, Texas all of her adult life. Makes me wonder how far around the world the Rau snaps and fittings went in their heyday...
Paul Fritsche Jan 25 2009 I also worked at RAU Fastener From 1981 to 1990 Phil Jenson was my boss in the rolling machines dept, Then transferred across the street to the building where we built the machines and Bill Vadney was my boss, And then they changed the stamp on the back of the snap to KLIKIT. I miss all my fellow employees. I have never heard of Ray Fastener either, I’ve always known it as RAU Fastener.
jeremy reiter Dec 13 2008 leus reiter was my great-great grandfather, and herman is my great-grand father.herman reiter is my father
Dick Sonier Mar 7, 2008 I Worked at Rau Fastener in the 70’s as the maintenance welder. When I left there I moved to Florida to teach welding at a boys home. Enjoyed the photos.
Eugene A. Blanchet I worked for Rau Fastener from Spring of 1976 to Spring of 1978. Robert Bigalow and Ray Carr were my foremans in that time. I was hired to work in the Warwick plant at the time to asssist in the toolcrib and receiving and shipping and also to tend and clean leased snap machines that were returned. My time there at Rau were a great leaning experience. I also worked there through the great blizzard of ‘78 which I will never forget. I barely made it home after 3.5 hours to West Warwick on Post road near East Greenwich.
Heather Reed We recently purchased a leather leg gun holster with a US stamp on the front the only markings (besides Rau Fastner Co. Providence RI on the clasp) is on the back stamped Hunter Corp. 7791527. We are looking for any information on this piece or suggestions as to where we might find it. Thank you very much for your time and knowledge.
Bob Marshall Bear Archery was using Rau fasteners on their archery gloves until velcro took over. I have several vintage archery gloves with this hardware called snap/slide buckles. The male back of the buckles are stamped: RAU F. CO. PROV. R.I. I am hoping to learn if any company is still making this exact style snap buckle, or if you know who might have some NOS (new old stock) of these snaps. Perhaps you know what happened to the equipment which made these snaps in the factory. I am looking to make recreations of the Bear Archery Gloves. Any information along these lines would be very helpful. Thanks, firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrea Reiter Lues Reiter was my great grandfather. To my knowledge, prior to the sale in 1961 at least, it was never called Ray Fastener. Rau was my great-grandmother’s maiden name. My grandfather, Herman S. Reiter, was the treasurer of the corporation.
E Richards I worked at Rau Fasteners in the Data Processing area (on a keypunch machine) and then in Accounts Receivable during my first year out of Rhode Island College. It’s so strange to see the photos now. I left RI in 1974, and it seems a thousand years ago. It’s good to see the old place again though, and to read its long history.
The information about each building grows as visitors let us know about their experiences. Did you or a member of your family work here? Did you grow up near it as a child? Let us know. All entries will be moderated and may be posted in an edited form. We will use your name unless you tell us otherwise. We will not make your email public.