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Littlest Building in Providence a.k.a. Coffee King

 

Note: This may not be the smallest structure in Downtown Providence. Do parking attendant huts count?

When I photographed the “Littlest Building” in downtown, it was going through a transition from one coffee shop to another. As you can tell by the colors, it used to be very small Dunkin Donuts. Now, it is the Coffee King, an independent shop. Good for them.

I am most interested in how this building came to be. I can guess that there used to be a larger building behind it, or around it, and it was taken down. But why was this little portion saved? Or maybe it was constructed here?

Personally, I like the explanation given by one of our earlier anecdote-givers, W Gnoza: this building was constructed as a “study” for a larger building. It was given as much detail as a larger building might have to serve as a preview. For newer construction, this is also done, but not quite on this scale. There might be some truth to this.

Stephanie Cherrington Aug 19 2012 I too am a descendent of James Lavell. My mother, Helene Farrell, was his grand daughter. We are visiting Rhode Island and are interested in his history. I understand that his old house is located at 36 Park Place. We visited the house but are unsure if that was indeed his house. Do you have any other history that you can share?

pete Nov 25 2009 i remember in the early 70s there was a L shaped bldg which wrapped around this. it housed a restaurant called “HONEYDEW”. i used to help out there serving when i was 15-16 yrs old. wow the memories. on the 2nd floor on clemence st there was a coffee drop in center called the MOUTHPIECE where people can come in chat and eat and relax etc. it burned in 74 i beleive. also on the corner of mathewson st there was an army surplus store and next door to that was jimmy’s bar i remember quite a bit about it and the pepople that worked there, many people from projo came in there for food etc. it was a family that ran it. too bad its gone miss it a lot

brosa It seems that the facade of this building is metaphorical. they used the area behind it for a ground-level parking lot, and kept the front of the building to maintain the historical architectural fabric. It’s like the Mason building development – to the uncritical eye, an old building was preserved to maintain the historicity of downtown. In fact, it’s a “facade” of historic preservation that conceals the contemporary drive for downtown development.

James O’Reill James Lavell was my great-grandfather. I have a whiskey jug that reads James Lavell & Son 24-28 Fountain Street. This is interesting because he must’ve produced whiskey at that speakeasy. If anyone is interested in contacting me please do so. Thank you. (email AIR using the anecdote form below)

W Gnoza A possible answer to the question why this building is here may be seen behind it in picture 01 (the Palmer Block). It was common on large projects to build a “Detail” closer to the ground where the folks who put up the money and designed it could see it full size and work out cosmetic schemes.

C Feisthamel This building was owned by James Lavell during the first part of the 20th century. He operated a business named Beacon Realty, which, during Prohibition, was used as a front for his Pawtucket brewery. Clients would come in and order (and prepay) for kegs of full strength beer (“near” beer was allowed to be made), which was made at the former Hand brewery. Lavell also ran a speakeasy down the street at 24-28 Fountain St, which boasted the “world’s longest bar”, which eventually became the more familiar Doorley’s. The site is now a parking lot. Lavell, who was arrested and convicted of federal tax evasion in 1931, went on to re-name the brewery the Rhode Island Brewing Company and operated it until his death in 1939. I am also told that the basement extends under the sidewalk. I am unsure of what has happened to the little building since the 30s; I would hope that if the adjacent parking lots are developed, that the building is incorporated into the new structures.

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.

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