I Know a Place… With C.J. Opperthauser

Published in People in Preservation.

Think you know a place? Welcome to our new occasional feature, in which one local curates their quintessential Providence experience. For our inaugural edition, we asked C.J. Opperthauser about what charming landscapes and architectural wonders make Providence, Providence. 

About our Featured Wanderer 

C.J. will soon be moving to Portland, Maine, to become Executive Director of Friends of Congress Square Park, a small placemaking nonprofit activating and caring for a small beautiful plaza downtown. While in Providence, where he worked as Director of Training & Placemaking at Grow Smart RI, he was involved in making cool things happen — including Tour de Tentacle, WalkPVD, Bike Month, and Jane’s Walk — and spent a lot of time getting around by foot and bus. He could most frequently and reliably be found at Small Point Cafe and New Harvest Coffee & Spirits huddled over a drink of various sorts which depended on the time (and type) of day.

Old ProJo Building

The original Providence Journal building at the corner of Westminster and Eddy Streets downtown absolutely tops my list of favorite buildings to stare at in the city. Though it’s a little flamboyant compared to my usual taste in architecture, I find myself getting lost in its detailing while sitting outside Small Point Cafe with a hot cup of coffee. My favorite detailing on this building I discovered while giving a Jane’s Walk downtown where my group and I searched for gargoyles and grotesques in the facades lining downtown’s wide sidewalks. Itty bitty goat heads, straight out of an H.P. Lovecraft story, face Eddy Street below eye level. I challenge you to go find them and fall in love like I did.

Photo Credit: C.J. Opperthauser, 2020

Read more about it in our Online Guide to Providence Architecture

Neighbor’s Lane

Between John and Williams Streets on the East Side stretches Neighbor’s Lane, an old carriage path lined with cobblestone and brick that transports you back in time. It’s an otherworldly walk that overloads the senses with uneven cobbles, a yard full of ridiculous animal statues, and architecture that transports you back in time as the best walks in College Hill tend to do. Anytime I can find an excuse to use this as a shortcut, I do it. It’s a delight.

Image Credit: I {heart} Rhody

The Living Edge

I’m absolutely biased toward the Living Edge because I helped to make it happen. This beautiful and subtle pocket park meadow was the result of CityWorks, a project by DownCity Design and of which I was a fellow. A group of volunteers and fellow fellows (how few opportunities one gets to say fellow fellows) dug up the unhealthy grass and soil that was in this spot and planted, with [landscape architect] Adam Anderson at the helm, this amazing native meadow with its young trees, gravel and log paths, and cut log benches. It has since become my go-to place to sit and think and watch the river do its thing under the backdrop of the downtown skyline. 

Photo Credit: C.J. Opperthauser, 2020

Bajnotti Fountain in Burnside Park

Probably my favorite hobby in the world is people-watching, and there is no better spot than Burnside Park. In the summer, once they kick the fountain on, the gorgeous and often overlooked dedication to the artist’s lost love becomes a beacon of activity for all types of folks, and makes for an enchanting and entertaining foreground to its busy downtown backdrop. Trust me and sit on a bench for a while. 

Image Credit: Providence Public Library

All Saints’ Memorial Church

Finally, All Saints’ Memorial Church on Westminster Street is one of my favorite buildings in the city, primarily because of its absolutely gorgeous red doors. It’s not nearly as dramatically styled as the ProJo Building; its comparatively subdued gothic stylings are stately in its brownstone skin, accented by, again, these heartthrob doors that I can’t take my eyes off of when I walk or bus past it. [Ed. note: Enjoy the view while sitting outside White Electric Coffee.]

Image Credit: Providence Public Library

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