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polish national home / george c. arnold building

October 19, 2009 at 5:43 am

I am working on too many projects at once but THAT IS OKAY.

polish home drawing

This is for a commissioned print of the Polish National Home, in my neighborhood, that has been renovated by Olneyville Housing Corporation, the local community development non-profit, for use as their offices.

I got to see the original blueprints for this building, and even some preliminary proposal drawings for it. In the preliminary drawings, it had an art-deco style chain-hung metal-and-glass awning over the door… then by the final blueprints, there is this totally awkward neo-classical pediment thing going on. Why? I don’t know.

polish home drawing detail

Ink is going onto mylar over the super precise pencil drawing. I forgot how much fun making this kind of drawing is.

It was great to figure out the geometry and composition of the front door corner facade: reminding me again that even a strange little building like this one has a proportional rhythm to it. The perspective looks wrong because the building is on a hill: the street to the right goes up steeply, but it looks like the line where the building meets the road is receding too sharply. Any suggestions about how to solve that problem?

The blueprints have great hand-lettering on them. At some point soon I’ll try & post some pictures of them and of other old blueprint lettering that Rob C. & I found recently…

… on the sad end of the spectrum, I suspect that the George C. Arnold building, aka “the skinny building”, is about to be torn down. The owner was grudgingly beginning to address its structural issues, and had put up some scaffolding along the back wall (which is windowless) when there was a suspicious fire. Last week, the scaffolding was taken down… which, to me, seems to bode ill for the building’s long-term survival.

george c. arnold building, providence, ri

It’s on the corner of Washington & Mathewson streets, in downtown Providence. Go visit it, pay homage, take some beautiful pictures, ask yourself again why the heck they ever built a building that is only ONE ROOM WIDE, maybe call the preservation society even though they are generally kind of ineffective these days… I don’t know what course of action to recommend… If it is demolished, a lot of people will miss it greatly.

If I had more time and was less project-schizophrenic and in a super-intense emotional state all the time, I would sit out there downtown, even in this cold October weather, and make some awesome drawings of it, probably crying giant tears the entire time… Things being as they are, I just took a bunch of pictures (crying giant tears the entire time) that will hopefully be able to serve as photo-reference for some drawings and prints in the future.



  1. Hi, Jean. This is such good news that you’re doing the print for the new OHC quarters. I can’t think of a commissionee who could possibly be more appropriate.

    I drove past it last week, and noticed the new windows, and the YouthBuild signage in place of the old sign over the door that said Dom Polski [lit. Polish Home] for so many years.

    I immediately dug up a few links:



    You’ll recall that Elaine’s parents had their wedding reception there.

    Do you know if they’re keeping the murals?

    Can I put in dibs to buy a copy of the print when it’s available?


    Comment by mark sawtelle — October 19, 2009 @ 10:30 am
  2. Why is it windowless on the other side?

    Comment by Jonathan — October 19, 2009 @ 12:29 pm
  3. Mark — thanks for the links! I don’t know anything about the murals, since I haven’t seen the inside: I would ask Bridget Dignan or Jay O’Grady at Olneyville Housing. I know that the upstairs space, which is Youthbuild’s offices, has been divided up into smaller rooms.

    I’ll find out about how buying a print would work: OHC is going to have the full edition, and is going to give them away as commemorative thingies, but we can probably figure it out. You could probably show up to the re-dedication party (as yet no date has been set), chat the right people up, and get one handed to you…

    Jonathan — the too-easy answer is: because there was once another building (or buildings) there. The more complicated questions, I don’t have any answers for: Why did this weird little building not get torn down when the buildings behind it did? If the other buildings were built first, why were they not built out the extra 20 feet or so to Washington Street? Who zoned the block with a tiny narrow lot on one end of it in the first place? ???

    someone may know, but it is not me… and I have to go back to drawing! getting work done… I am trying…

    Comment by jean — October 20, 2009 @ 3:24 am
  4. Thanks, Jean. I’ve met Bridget a few times. But any info that comes your way would be welcome.

    Comment by mark sawtelle — October 21, 2009 @ 5:21 pm
  5. Hey there Jean! It’s been a very long time since I last saw you – since the GFS reunion (which totally surprised me! I thought I was just going to wish Larry Hoenig a happy retirement. I was quite blindsided by that whole reunion thing!). Anyway, I am momentarily living in Texas and your funny building has me thinking of the funny buildings here, whose fronts are bigger than their bodies, just like they are in cartoons of the West. What a funny place.

    Anyway, I’ve been lurking around your website for ages, although somehow never dropping you a line. I freaking love your work. Maybe it’s a function of having parents whose jobs revolve around architecture, maybe it’s just that you make really lovely stuff, whatever the reason, I love your prints and late even greater pleasure in getting to sneak a peek at the bones that lie underneath the prints.

    Comment by Kate Thomas — November 7, 2009 @ 6:12 pm
  6. Kate! Whoa, it’s great to hear from you. How’s it going? Thanks for writing. I’m glad that you’re reading this. I’ve been super busy, but now I am going to try & get an email out to you at some point soon.

    …and yes, spending so much time looking at this building/drawing has heightened my awareness of others which fall into the loose category of “flat-roofed light-industrial buildings from the 1920s which someone saw fit to slap an incongruous pseudo-greco-roman archway on”. I found another one the other day. They were trying to go for some clean lines and modern industrial purity, but in the end, couldn’t quite get there: “I just think it would look better with a triangle over the door, don’t you?”

    I’m curious about the funny buildings you’ve got out there, are they as-seen-in-movie-westerns, a peaked roof with a flat-topped front, making them look half-a-story taller and less rural…? send some pictures!

    Comment by jean — November 8, 2009 @ 5:03 am
  7. […] neo-classical pediment on an early-20th-century industrial building […]

    Pingback by Secret Door Projects » drawing in new orleans! — February 17, 2010 @ 8:15 am

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