PROVIDENCE — When Joseph Paolino Jr. bought the historic 1887 Exchange Building in downtown Providence in 2013, he had grand plans to create a luxury hotel one day. His mother, lifelong Providence resident Beatrice Temkin, had plans of her own.
“If you’re going to open a hotel, you should name it after your mother,” she said one day, with a firmness that betrayed the casual delivery. “Wouldn’t that be nice?”
“We looked at her like, ‘OK, Mom,’” said Donna Paolino Coia, Paolino’s sister. “Then when she suddenly died [in 2016], one of the first things Joe said was that we’re going to name this after Mom.”
The Beatrice Hotel opened in October after several months of pandemic delays, becoming Providence’s first new luxury boutique hotel in nearly a decade. The entrance to The Beatrice is a tall, chic corridor with historic brickwork and floor-to-ceiling windows with a modern chandelier, recently enclosed with a glass ceiling that connects the Exchange Building with its neighboring Westminster Street office building. The lobby is the repurposed alleyway between buildings, now filled with plants and enormous light sculptures. The 47-room hotel is compact but elegant, with unparalleled views of the city through its tall windows. Rooms range in size from 300 square feet to 800 square feet. The hotel is contemporary, with high ceilings, splashes of color, and notably upscale amenities (like Dyson Supersonic hair dryers and Mascioni linens).
And of course, there are very subtle tributes to lifelong Providence resident Beatrice Temkin everywhere.
The logo is emblazoned with Temkin’s elegant handwriting. Temkin’s likeness resides over the hotel across from the check in desk, in the form of a tiled mosaic. The artwork was taken from a photo of Temkin when she was about 80, smiling brightly with well-coiffed hair and obvious style. The plaque next to the mosaic describes her legacy, as written and edited by her granddaughters.
Temkin was a fixture of the Providence social and philanthropic scene. She lived downtown for many years in a high rise that can still be seen from The Beatrice’s rooftop. She was an avid patron of the arts, especially the Providence Performing Arts Center and Trinity Repertory Company.
Paolino became the mayor of Providence in 1984, at 29 years old. At 41, he joined the family business and became fourth-generation owner of Paolino Properties, a property management and development company, next door to the Exchange Building. The Beatrice is his first hotel endeavor without partners, and the toughest development project he’s been involved in.
“I always wanted to do a hotel. I always loved this building.” Paolino thinks this is the best area of the city. Paolino wanted to be mayor of Providence since the age of 5, but it was time as US Ambassador to Malta from 1994 to 1996 that inspired his new visions.
“I traveled a lot and knew what was missing from my hometown. This hotel was missing,” said Paolino.
Having world-famous restaurant brand Cipriani in the building certainly helps. Their restaurant Bellini (an ode to Giuseppe Cipriani’s 1948 invention of the Bellini cocktail in Venice) has outposts in New York, Miami, and now, Providence. Ignazio Cipriani was heavily involved in all aspects of the design and vibe of the first floor, to keep it in line with the fourth-generation family business’s brand. The ever-changing menu puts a modern twist on classic Italian dishes served on hand-painted plates. The restaurant is chic and so very Italian, but with some subtle Rhode Island influences. For example, while much of the furniture was made in Dubai, the woodwork was done by Newport boatbuilder Jim Thompson.
The very meticulous finishing touches are still being added to the rooftop private Bellini Club (set to open in early 2022). The roof will be an indoor/outdoor space for guests and members only, serving custom cocktails and a specialty menu against the backdrop of sweeping views of historic downtown Providence.
“It’s helping to make the difference of what we’re trying to do for the city,” said Paolino.
The hotel’s opening is significant in Providence, a city that has worked hard to get past its notoriously gritty reputation. Similarly, once Beatrice herself got involved (in spirit), the hotel became more than just a real estate project to Paolino.
Coia, Paolino’s sister, worked with Eric Zuena of ZDS Architecture & Interiors to put special touches throughout the hotel that reminded her of her mother.
“My mom was always ahead of her time in everything,” said Coia. “She was very elegant. She loved color. She loved modern when modern wasn’t even en vogue, so we started there.”
Sometimes, that meant re-imagining the details that might go over other people’s heads. The original design plan had no significant counter space around the bathroom sink, which just would not do for a perfectly put-together woman like Beatrice, said her daughter. She wouldn’t have liked the shower head in the center of the glass shower since it would get the floor wet, so they moved it to the far side of the wall.
“She always wanted to be filled in on the day’s activities,” said Paolino. “If she was alive today she’d be here a lot, and she’d probably have been very involved.”
In her absence, a hotel mural implores, “Tell me, tell me, tell me,” Temkin’s favorite phrase to use any time she called her children and grandchildren to ask what was new in their lives.
In that spirit, The Beatrice hopes to be more than a chic stopover for out-of-towners and alumni weekends. Both The Beatrice and Cipriani have been consistently busy since their opening, with a huge community interest. But most importantly, what would Beatrice Temkin think of her namesake?
“I think she’d love it. She loved the community so much. She also loved notoriety. And she’d get a real kick out of seeing her name in The Boston Globe,” said Paolino.
“Mostly, she’d always say, ‘You’ll miss me when I’m gone.’ And if she was here right now I’d tell her, ‘Dammit, Mom, you were right.’”
Hillary Richard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.