RHODYLIFE

COLLECTIBLES: The Providence Biltmore: An Icon of Rhode Island History

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When you see the Providence skyline, a few buildings stand clustered around Kennedy Plaza and one is none other than the Providence Biltmore, recognizable by the red neon lights blazing against the sky. Since 1922, the Biltmore has shaped the city of Providence; it is now an icon recognizable to generations of Rhode Islanders. I know people whose grandparents were married there, and just last month I had my own wedding afterparty there! In 1977 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and this year the hotel celebrated its 100th birthday with a huge party hosted by the new owners, Graduate Hotels.

Built in the neo-Federal Beaux-arts style by the same architects who designed Grand Central Terminal, the Biltmore was the pride of Providence. Modern for 1922, it was the most luxurious hotel in the city and hosted celebrities, politicians, and even mobsters who preferred the very best accommodations around. It featured a rooftop garden with chicken coops, a drugstore, a print shop, a carpenter, an upholsterer, a photo lab, six different restaurants, and hot springs in the basement – talk about amenities! While the hotel itself fell on hard times and changed owners many times over the years, major community efforts in the 1970s propelled the preservation of this Rhode Island landmark into the 21st century.

As usual, I was inspired to write this by a consignment that recently came into the auction house. It is the (one and only!) original hand-painted canvas mural that hung behind the bar in the Falstaff Room of the Biltmore since 1934. When major renovations began after its purchase in 2017 by AJ Capital Partners, a Chicago-based firm, the mural was taken down and salvaged by our consignor - What an amazing piece of art and history to save!

The mural is immense. At over 23 feet long, it extended the entire lengt­h of the bar. We are fortunate to also have an original postcard from the Biltmore featuring of the mural in all its glory. Titled “Falstaff and his Friends” and painted by New England artist Robert Charles Haun in 1934, it was the perfect showpiece for the Tudor-inspired décor of the Falstaff Room. For those who don’t know, Falstaff is a famous Shakespearean character known for his indulgent, boastful ways and drunken good times – not bad company to have for a night at the bar!

It’s great to see that while so much has changed inside over the years, the Biltmore’s façade (for the most part) has stood the test of time. Luckily, pieces of history like this mural have been saved and preserved for future generations of Rhode Islanders to see and enjoy. Perhaps you will be the one to take this iconic piece of Providence Biltmore home in 2023? The auction is January 9th at Bruneau and Co Auctioneers!­­

collectibles, collecting

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