Skip to content

8 Surprising Facts About Historic Graduate Providence

Click to scroll down to Read Article

Last week, Graduate Providence officially opened its doors on Dorrance Street. The historic hotel, formerly the Providence Biltmore, has been a downtown landmark since 1922 and a lot has gone down within its walls.

Here are eight fun stories and facts from the building’s nearly hundred-year history.

1.  In the late 1920s, the hotel’s first manager planted a vegetable garden and installed pens for chickens and ducks on the roof of the Biltmore to offer diners fresh, local fare. The ducks proved hard to wrangle. In 1927, they flew south toward Narragansett Bay and were never seen again.

2.  Warren & Wetmore, the same architectural firm that created NYC’s famed Grand Central Station, designed Graduate Providence. The hotel’s original ornate ceilings and crystal chandeliers are still in place today.

Portrait of André Leon Talley in the Graduate Providence lobby

A portrait of Brown-alum André Leon Talley, created by artist Ashley Longshore, hangs in the Graduate Providence lobby. Photo by Trent Bell.

3.  When it opened on June 6, 1922, the Biltmore offered guests six different restaurants all located within the hotel. It also housed a drugstore, printing studio, photo lab, and a carpentry and upholstery shop.

4.  The dance floor of the Garden Ballroom was once turned into a giant aquarium, complete with live fish, for a swim show starring Hollywood’s “million dollar mermaid” Esther Williams.

5.  The 18-story hotel was the largest building in Providence until 1928.

6.  “I went north to Providence. Met the mayor … He was sitting in the hotel lobby.” Willy Loman, protagonist of Arthur Miller’s classic play Death of a Salesman, brags to his boys about rubbing elbows with VIPs in the lobby of the Biltmore.

Vintage postcard showing the lobby in the 1920s

7.  John F. Kennedy and his Navy buddies would drive up to the Biltmore on weekends to party at the hotel’s Bacchante Room, home of the famous Bacchante Girls. They were stationed at the training center in nearby Melville, Rhode Island.

8.  The hotel’s two iconic exterior features — the glass elevator and the “BILTMORE” neon sign — were added in 1979.

Don’t worry, the sign and elevator aren’t going anywhere. The guest rooms, lobby and event spaces all got a Graduate refresh, but the well-loved historic elements remain untouched. Here’s to another 100 years of good times in downtown Providence, Rhode Island.

Planning a visit to RI’s Creative Capital? Check out our guide to wandering around Providence.

Choose a Category or Location to filter the Graduate Blog, then submit

I'd like to see...

More specifically, only at

Book Now - opens the booking widget