How Brown’s campus and property holdings have changed, from 1770 to today

Reporting by Will Kubzansky, Katy Pickens, and Rhea Rasquinha

Web design & layout by Ashley Cai, Jed Fox and Neil Mehta

Additional reporting by Stella Chen

Below, The Herald has mapped the University’s property purchases and some of its sales from its founding in 1764 to its present-day footprint. Brown first purchased property in 1770.

Information comes from the Brown Real Estate Office archives; the Brown Office of Facilities Management; the Encyclopedia Brunoniana; Herald archives; the John Hay Library's special collections; the Providence Journal archives; the Providence Preservation Society's Most Endangered Properties lists; the Providence Public Library's atlas collection; and the Rhode Island State Archives at the office of the Department of State.

The information below is imperfect, especially predating 2002, which was the first year Providence began publishing its complete property tax rolls online. The maps from 1770 to 2000 include confirmed purchase years of many specific properties. Other properties that appear on the map do not match the exact boundaries of land the University purchased, but we know Brown must have acquired those parcels because University buildings stand there today.

These maps almost assuredly miss a few buildings and properties without records in the archives. Still, they show the breadth of the University’s expansion to new blocks and corners of the city over the past centuries.

If you have a correction, addition or knowledge of when Brown acquired certain properties, please email

Brown’s original campus spanned two adjacent lots including what is now the Quiet Green, Main Green and Ruth J. Simmons Quadrangle. At this time, there were no paved roads, so the true boundaries of campus may have not aligned exactly with its contemporary confines.

Between 1770 and 1900, the outline of Brown beyond its original campus began to take shape. The University bought the land for its first building on what is now the Pembroke campus in 1895. In this era, it also acquired Pembroke Field, land on Thayer Street and land that would become the Brown Stadium. Between 1770 and 1900, the University sold some properties that were on its original campus. While they bought some back, others remain independently owned to this day.

The early 20th century saw campus expansion to make room for the Women’s College, later renamed Pembroke College. Sayles Gym — now Smith-Buonanno Hall — and much of the land that would become Andrews Hall were acquired by the University in this time frame.

President Henry Wriston, who held his position from 1937 to 1955, made rapid and extensive campus expansion a key priority for the University. Brown gradually bought the homes and buildings on the land of what would soon become Wriston Quadrangle and Keeney Quadrangle.

By 1960, the University’s two largest residential quads — Wriston and Keeney — were complete.

Farview, Inc., a nonprofit corporation legal entity entirely owned by the University, was incorporated in 1958. This subsidiary helped facilitate the purchase of properties that either remained commercial or taxable or were later demolished for future projects. The University also acquired much of the land that would eventually become the Life Sciences Quad and Barus and Holley.

By the mid-1960s, Farview was listed as the owner of 15 to 20 properties in Providence. In the decades prior to 1980, Brown leased out several properties on John Street. Students were increasingly opting to live off-campus and spreading into Fox Point, contributing to rising rents and displacement, The Herald previously reported.

The University took on more non-educational and commercial properties, looking ahead to bigger plans and future dorms.

“The issue,” President Barnaby Keeney told The Herald during a 1962 dispute about the construction of Barus and Holley, “is essentially whether Brown goes up in the air, spreads out more or stands still. We are quite prepared to operate under city policies that will permit us to go up or spread out. If the pressure on the University is to stand still, we shall have to resist.”

In the 1980s, the University acquired the final buildings on the block that would become the Vartan Gregorian Quadrangle, which opened in 1991.

In the 1990s, through purchases made by Farview, Brown also acquired the strip mall on Brook Street, which included Bagel Gourmet, East Side Mini-Mart and a police station. These structures were demolished in fall 2021 to make way for the Brook Street Dormitories, indicating the long-term lens the University has taken with acquiring and developing property.

In the 2000s, Brown began a conscious effort to expand off College Hill. In President Ruth J. Simmons’s Plan for Academic Enrichment — among the first public-facing University plans that explicitly called for expansion beyond College Hill — the University set its sights upon the Jewelry District, where it has expanded its research facilities, medical school, office of admission and more.

In 2014, the administration of President Christina Paxson P’19 launched the Building on Distinction plan, a strategic initiative for campus development and growth in pursuit of Brown’s academic mission.

In 2019, the University dissolved Farview. Since then, the University has converted much of its once-commercial property into student housing — tearing down houses and a strip mall on several distinct blocks of Brook Street to create Sternlicht Commons and the Brown University Health & Wellness Center.

Over the decades, the University has also sold many properties. The information for some sales is readily available, but other records were less accessible. While some sold properties disappear throughout these maps, others that appeared consistently disappear in the 2002 map, indicating that they were sold by that point.

Drag the handle below to see Brown's property holdings from 2002 to 2022.


Today, acquisitions on College Hill are “less frequent, because there's less available space,” said Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91. The Jewelry District has seen more University expansion because of land made available by the 2009 relocation of the I-195 highway.

The Paxson administration has sought to build upon the Simmons administration’s strategic plan, Carey explained, in an effort “to fulfill our academic mission and (have) excellent and adequate facilities in order to do that.”

“Being a residential university and a research-intensive university comprises a significant need for space,” Carey said.

The University currently holds a mix of institutional and commercial properties. Its “primary mission is not commercial activity,” Carey said, adding that there are “a mix of reasons” for the University’s ownership of commercial entities. “We’re not running large commercial enterprises or seeking to do so.”

On Thayer Street, the University is the landlord for shops such as Insomnia Cookies, Berk’s and Warby Parker. According to Carey, Brown has been “actively involved for decades” with the Thayer Street District Management Association and has representatives on the board.

Over the last 20 years, the University has sold as much or more property compared to its acquisitions, Carey said, as part of a “conscious effort … to identify properties that are not critical to the (University’s) mission and can be better utilized in other ways.” That includes the Brown to Brown program — which renovates and sells homes to Brown community members — and the 2019 sale of former University property that is now Narragansett Brewery.

Brown’s tax footprint

Institutional properties — including dormitories, academic buildings and dining halls — are property tax-exempt because of their academic use. Commercial properties owned by Brown — such as the Brown Bookstore and Hemenway’s restaurant — are taxed.

Carey explained that while Brown’s institutional tax-exempt status is crucial to its nonprofit mission, the University is “extraordinarily aware and sensitive” of the importance of property tax revenue for Providence. Brown would generate close to $50 million for Providence if taxed at the commercial rate, according to a January 2022 report from the Providence Financial Department.

In fiscal year 2021, Brown paid over $4.3 million in transition and voluntary payments and $1.9 million in property taxes for commercial buildings, The Herald previously reported.

The University is “very committed to the financial sustainability and success of the city of Providence,” he said. Currently, Brown has two agreements addressing tax-exemption in place with the city: the 2003 Memorandum of Understanding and the 2012 Memorandum of Agreement, which both expire next January, The Herald previously reported.

The 2003 agreement, which includes all private nonprofit institutions in Providence, effectively allows nonprofits to hold taxable commercial property under their own name and still pay taxes. The agreement binds the nonprofits to a 15-year phase-out period “when properties are acquired that were tax-generating … become tax-exempt,” Carey said.

By introducing this phase-out process, the need for Farview — which kept properties on the tax roll that were not transferred to the University and made tax-exempt — became “less and less pressing,” Carey said.

The 2003 MOU included 20 years of cash payments “directly to the city from Brown,” Carey explained. The 2012 MOA also required “cash payments to the city every year.” Renegotiations for the agreements in January are a “high priority for the institutions and the incoming mayor,” Carey said.

With these agreements, Farview “had less utility and wasn’t necessary,” leading to its 2019 dissolution, Carey explained. Properties previously owned by Farview that the University has not sold are still owned by the University, and commercial properties continue to be taxed.

In 2012, Providence firefighters and police officers protested outside Hemenway’s to call upon the University to increase its voluntary payments to the city. Dan Alexander / Herald

To secure financing to renovate the building that is now the Warren Alpert Medical School, build a park and create a police substation, the University established another subsidiary in 2010, Karing, Inc., University Spokesperson Brian Clark wrote in an email to The Herald. It was also dissolved in 2019.

When the University acquired River House in 2021, Carey said it created a specific subsidiary: River House Holdings 1, LLC. Since the property had a pre-existing tax-stabilization agreement which Brown assumed, establishing the subsidiary made it “very clear that we were going to honor” the TSA, he added.

Apart from River House Holdings 1, LLC, the University does not see any need for “having a standing separate but wholly owned entity just for” commercial holdings and expansion, Carey explained. “That’s why we closed (Farview) down.”

Community impact

“It appears to us that Brown views the properties it owns as” part of Brown’s campus, said Brent Runyon, executive director of the Providence Preservation Society. “I think many people would agree that one of the most attractive features of Brown is that it is … integrated into the surrounding neighborhood of College Hill.”

With this disconnect, Brown seems “to have very low regard for the College Hill National Historic District,” Runyon said.

Though the University has previously physically relocated several of its historic buildings, those opportunities have diminished. There just isn't that much open space,” Runyon said.

“Expansion has been aggressive,” he added.

Runyon said some of Brown’s acquisitions and replacements — like fast food restaurants and a gas station on Angell Street — were beneficial. But other efforts, like a failed plan to demolish buildings including the Urban Environmental Lab for the Lindemann Performing Arts Center “really disregard the neighborhood, and so there is a lot of friction between neighbors,” he said.

Historic districts and other preservation measures are in place but do not protect all properties. The 2021 historic district overlay expansion included three Brown properties, down from the 21 in the original proposal, The Herald previously reported.

Runyon, as well as Nick Cicchitelli, president of the Fox Point Neighborhood Association, emphasized that the University’s shadow extends well past its official property holdings, as students and graduate students proliferate further off College Hill.

“Brown is the largest and wealthiest player around,” Cicchitelli said. “That affords it the ability to expand in ways that other players cannot.”

The University “likes to say that they’re very open to community feedback,” Cicchitelli said. While “they’re open to conversation, … in terms of external efficacy, it’s lacking.”

“I think there’s a longer strategic vision that they’re keeping private and they’re only sharing piecemeal bits here and there for the public,” Cicchitelli said.

“Brown wouldn’t be Brown without Providence,” Cicchitelli added. “Providence wouldn’t be Providence without Brown.”

The University has “a constant set of relationships and communications” with neighborhood organizations, government officials and departments and key stakeholders, such as the PPS and 195 District Commissions, Carey said. For large-scale projects, with the integrated life sciences building “front-and-center right now,” the University is engaging in extensive community outreach.

Additionally, the University solicits community feedback when it creates its institutional master plans submitted every five years to the city, Carey said.

“We’ve seen an unbounded expansion of the University,” Ward 1 Councilman John Goncalves ’13 MA’15 said.

“We all recognize Brown’s symbiotic relationship with the city of Providence and positive impact,” including job-creation, voluntary payments and public-private partnerships, Goncalves said.

But he pointed to the problem of the “human displacement of the former denizens of Fox Point,” where a vibrant immigrant community once stood. College students priced out longtime residents as rents and property values rose. Highway construction and urban renewal also displaced many residents.

The University’s property assessments are close to $1.3 billion in total, according to the Finance Department.

Brown, Goncalves said, could do more for Providence. “The thing that a lot of people would like to see is Brown pitching in more of its fair share to alleviate some of the burden that property taxpayers or taxpayers in the city have to shoulder.”

Jewelry District

In 2004, the University acquired 70 Ship Street, its first purchase in the Jewelry District. Since then, Brown has become a major player in the area, with 17 properties — including a parking garage — west of the Providence River, according to current campus maps.

“There was a strategic decision to think of our campus as having two elements: one based on College Hill and one based in the Jewelry District,” University Spokesperson Brian Clark said.

The College Hill campus focuses on “undergraduate instruction, faculty research and student life” while the Jewelry District is in the process of becoming “a mixed-use environment that focuses on medical education, scientific research and … administrative space,” Clark said.

“The Jewelry District itself is very different than most other neighborhoods,” said Sharon Steele, president of the Jewelry District Association. In the early 20th century, the Jewelry District was the city’s “center of manufacturing” but faced decline when the interstate was built, Steele said.

I-195’s relocation opened up many parcels in the neighborhood. Though most developments have been residential, there is hope for new jobs and business activity to make the area “very much like the neighborhood that we used to be,” Steele added.

The University hopes to bring “new life to that neighborhood and (support) city and state goals,” Clark added. Carey noted that parcels in the Jewelry District purchased from Care New England this summer will support research opportunities. There are “opportunities to do that in the Jewelry District in a way that is beneficial and is welcomed by the community.”

The University aims to develop projects that create “both near-term construction jobs and long-term economic growth and sustainable activity,” Carey said.

Brown’s role as an anchor tenant in the Rhode Island Department of Health laboratory building has enabled the developers to build out space for potential commercial entities, particularly commercial laboratory space, he explained.

The University has engaged in similar developments at South Street Landing — a power plant that sat vacant for almost 20 years — and 225 Dyer St., where Brown recently committed to leasing an additional floor for laboratory space, Carey said.

President Ruth Simmons prepares to break ground on a new building for Brown’s medical school. Alex Bell / Herald

Over time, Steele believes Brown’s Jewelry District properties will eventually resemble the campus on College Hill. “What we have is the most collaborative, communicative relationship that I could ever wish to have with any major institution in the state,” Steele said, citing the association’s work with Paxson and her administrative team. Steele said the University is a “partner,” and “they demonstrate it every single day.”

The University informs the JDA of its plans years in advance, Steele said. “We have a seat at the table.”

“We have the ability now to basically create a brand new neighborhood out of whole cloth, and that is a rare opportunity,” Steele said. “We feel that we could not have a better partner than we have in Brown.”

“It is our mutual goal,” Steele said, “to basically make this place better than the way we have found it.”