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Artistic vision fulfilled, as renovated Pawtucket mill rents last space


PAWTUCKET, R.I. — Thirty years ago, Morris Nathanson, an interior designer and artist who was designing restaurants and an art gallery in New York City’s Soho district, saw a future for Rhode Island’s deserted, forsaken mill buildings that were being torched.


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}); Artistic vision fulfilled, as renovated Pawtucket mill rents last space Published: December 28, 2014 11:20 PM Comments ss_2112687_pictures = {"items":{ "0":{"id":"2112683","src":"http://www.providencejournal.com/incoming/20141228-3dprint_1_bt.jpg.ece/BINARY/w620x413/3DPRINT_1_bt.jpg","caption":"Amy Bernhardt says she loves this wall in the building where a staircase used to beShe's a Rhode Island Foundation Innovation Fellow 2014 and will move into the last space in the revitalized manufacturing building in Pawtucket that will house her digital printing facility","credit":"Bob Thayer/The Providence Journal"} ,"1":{"id":"2112684","src":"http://www.providencejournal.com/incoming/20141228-1205_3dprint_space.ece/BINARY/w620x413/1205_3DPRINT_SPACE","caption":"Architects Christian JLadds, left, and Kathleen ABartels, center, with Amy Bernhardt view the Pawtucket complex of renovated mill buildings through fourth-floor windows","credit":"Bob Thayer/The Providence Journal"} ,"2":{"id":"2112686","src":"http://www.providencejournal.com/incoming/20141228-nathanson_go_01.jpg.ece/BINARY/w620x413/Nathanson_GO_01.jpg","caption":"Morris and Phyllis Nathanson, in their work space in the former Rhode Island Cardboard Company complex in Pawtucket, began renovating the building 30 years ago","credit":"Glenn Osmundson/The Providence Journal"} ,"3":{"id":"2112685","src":"http://www.providencejournal.com/incoming/20141228-12xx_3dprint_photo2.ece/BINARY/w620x413/12xx_3DPRINT_PHOTO2","caption":"The dream of Morris and Phyllis Nathanson has become reality in a Pawtucket live-work space they created","credit":"Glenn Osmundson/The Providence Journal"} },"length":"4"} The Providence Journal / Bob Thayer Amy Bernhardt says she loves this wall in the building where a staircase used to beShe's a Rhode Island Foundation Innovation Fellow 2014 and will move into the last space in the revitalized manufacturing building in Pawtucket that will house her digital printing facility. 1 of 4 .addthis { border-top: 1px solid #0F3E71; border-bottom: 1px solid #0F3E71; padding: 10px 5px; margin-bottom: 20px; } var switchTo5x=true; stLight.options({publisher: "af51aaca-03ce-4aa8-b72b-e643556f6eaf", doNotHash: true, doNotCopy: false, hashAddressBar: true}); By Kate Bramson Kate Bramson The Providence Journal Journal Staff Writer kbramson@providencejournal.com Published: December 28 2014 11:20 PAWTUCKET, R.I— Morris and Phyllis Nathanson both recall her tears 30 years ago when he showed his wife the Rhode Island Cardboard Company mill complex that had sat empty for years.On the top level of a decayed old building, plants grew up out of the hardwood floors, 6 feet tall and stretching toward the leaky roof.Morris, an interior designer and artist who was designing restaurants and an art gallery in New York City’s Soho district, easily saw beyond those slum-like conditionsHe saw a future for Rhode Island’s deserted, forsaken mill buildings that were being torchedHe had watched artists in Soho transform old sweatshops into funky loft spaceHe liked the Soho term — “work, live-in space” — and he wanted the same for Pawtucket.Phyllis, a real-estate developer, saw broken skylights and the hurdles of renovating a building with 20-foot-wide holes in its floors caused by the collapse of giant timbers overheadBut she also saw Morris reveling in how great the space would become.“He had this vision that someday we’re going to have this artist community,” Phyllis recalls.Morris wanted a space for more artists than he could fit in his crowded Providence design studioHe was convinced he was winning design projects because he didn’t simply turn to catalogs for artwork, as other designers didInstead, when he proposed artwork for restaurant walls, he’d find local artists to paint murals or other pieces.“I thought: Wouldn’t it be great if I could have a space large enough to include these various artists who we were working with?” he recalls.Despite Phyllis’ tears, Morris says, “I told her that, ‘No, no, we have to have a vision.’ And I told her it would take many years to do it, but when it’s finished, we will have something.”They got to workNow, they are gushing with excitement that a final tenant is moving into renovated mill space in the Armory Arts District that they made possible.Starting in 1985, the two renovated a 20,000-square-foot building in the cardboard-box company complex and filled the second floor with Morris’ 16 or 17 design employeesHe wanted to show people he could fill the space with artists, designers, architects and morePhyllis found tenants for the rest of the building.They convinced Pawtucket to change zoning rules to allow artists to live and work in one location — which had been illegal but which Morris saw working successfully in Soho.The two demolished a larger building that was too decayed to renovate — but saved the Greene steam engine from its basement and donated it to the New England Wireless and Steam Museum, in East Greenwich.Then, Morris and Phyllis pausedThey didn’t have the money to renovate a second mill building, nearly identical to theirs.So they set out to find the right developer to carry forward their vision for creating a design consortium in that prime location next to Route 95.The Nathansons chose Christian JLadds, whom Morris knew from his teaching days at the Rhode Island School of Design, and encouraged him to buy that second building and renovate it.The firm that Ladds co-owns with Kathleen ABartels — now LLB Architects Lerner Ladds Bartels — bought the building in 2010 for $301,000.Their team is known for designing the Hillside Residence Hall at the University of Rhode Island; adapting Brown University buildings for reuse, including the JWalter Wilson Laboratory; expanding Brown’s historic Wheaton House for its English department; and moving Brown’s three-story Peter BGreen House, a Victorian building on Olive Street, to its new location on Brown and Angell streets in 2007.In Pawtucket, the team embarked on an ambitious $3-million renovation project that relied on federal and state historic tax credits, which they say helped make it all possible.They carved out a core space in the middle of the building for the elevator, restrooms, stairs and a new heating and ventilation system so the workspace could take advantage of the natural light from dozens of windowsThey replaced the roof and electrical and mechanical systems.They installed new windows that curve at the top to conform with the historical structure of the building — a decision that required them to balance what they, as architects, wanted with what they, as project developers, could afford.“It was important that we practice what we preach and to do a building that embodies our philosophy,” Bartels said“We kept to our budget and splurged where we could.”With 24 employees, LLB moved into the space in July 2011, leaving behind offices on the East Side of Providence that they had occupied for 25 years.They’ve been filling up the space ever since — and have just signed a three-year lease for the last empty spot in the building.Amy LBernhardt, founder and president of Colorfast, will move into 3,000 square feet in LLB’s Design Exchange sometime early in 2015.A graphic designer at the Basics Group in Providence, Bernhardt had been seeking space since April, when she was named one of two Rhode Island Foundation Innovation Fellows for 2014The fellowship awards $300,000 over three years to its winners each spring.Bernhardt’s idea was to create a research and manufacturing business to design and produce digitally printed textilesShe’s hoping to help Rhode Island succeed in the global textiles market — as technology transforms the industry and the way fabric is created and produced.Bernhardt thinks there’s enough textile history and manufacturing past in Rhode Island for her pilot facility to help shape the industry’s futureThe Rhode Island Foundation liked the mixture of old and new in her proposal.And Ladds and Bartels like the fact that Bernhardt will move into their building in the shadow of the old Slater Mill, recognized as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution in the United StatesAs Ladds talks of Bernhardt’s vision to create “a new generation of textiles,” he points outside the mill building’s windows to the Seekonk River, Pawtucket City Hall and more.“There’s a spirit of creativity that permeates this area,” he says“It’s a beautiful fit, and I also think it’s so appropriate that she’s in the heart of the American Industrial Revolution, in view of Slater Mill.”Next door to LLB’s building is the rundown Fuller Jewelry Company building, covered in white vinyl, that the architecture firm is renovatingThey’ll remove that vinyl covering and infuse new life into that building, too.But the Nathanson vision continuedWhen the Lebanon Mills factory complex nearby closed about 15 years ago, Phyllis had an idea: Ask them not to sell the building until she could find the right developer to turn it into artists’ residencesThe Riverfront Lofts condominiums are now full of artists.The Nathansons bought the first condominium — a two-level live-work spaceThey still live in Providence, but they think one day they’ll move here.Phyllis was also instrumental in helping the Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre move into the annex space at the historic Pawtucket Armory 11 years ago.Now, Phyllis marvels at what the two have accomplished.“Morris comes up with the ideas and someone has to do it,” Phyllis says“He bought this old mill, but who do you think has to develop it because he’s so busy designing restaurants?”She likens their marriage and partnership to the dance partnership of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers — one leads, with grand ideas, while the other dances backward in high heels to complete the dance.The miracle, she says, is that his vision of creating an artist community has finally come to pass. On Twitter:  @JournalKate .addthis { border-top: 1px solid #0F3E71; border-bottom: 1px solid #0F3E71; padding: 10px 5px; margin-bottom: 20px; } var switchTo5x=true; stLight.options({publisher: "af51aaca-03ce-4aa8-b72b-e643556f6eaf", doNotHash: true, doNotCopy: false, hashAddressBar: true}); var pjc_oburlStr = location.pathname + '; pjc_oburlStr = (pjc_oburlStr.indexOf('?') > -1) ? pjc_oburlStr.substr(0, pjc_oburlStr.indexOf('?')) : pjc_oburlStr; var OutbrainPermaLink = 'http://www.providencejournal.com' + pjc_oburlStr; document.write('); var pjc_oburlStr = location.pathname + '; pjc_oburlStr = (pjc_oburlStr.indexOf('?') > -1) ? pjc_oburlStr.substr(0, pjc_oburlStr.indexOf('?')) : pjc_oburlStr; var OutbrainPermaLink = 'http://www.providencejournal.com' + pjc_oburlStr; document.write('); COMMENTS Providencejournal.com is now using Facebook CommentsTo post a comment, log into Facebook and then add your comment belowYour comment is subject to Facebook's Privacy Policy and Terms of Service on data useIf you don't want your comment to appear on Facebook, uncheck the 'Post to Facebook' boxTo find out more, read the FAQ

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