Though the area around it has changed over the years, Providence City Hall remains a constant in downtown Providence. Constructed in the 1870s, the cast iron and masonry structure witnessed the evolution of Exchange Place into Kennedy Plaza, two hurricanes, and multiple cycles of economic depression and growth. Initially, Providence’s municipal government was located in the crowded Market House, across the Providence river. Needing a bigger space, alderman were split on where to put a new city hall. Half of the council lived on the east side of the river, and half on the west, causing a thirty-year struggle over where to put the new government building. Eventually, the west side won and the cornerstone was laid on June 24, 1875. In the 1950s the city’s downtown master plan called for the demolition of City Hall, but it was saved and restored, reflecting the city’s pride in its historic roots.
Just outside of City Hall is a home for America’s oldest food cart: Haven Brothers Diner. Despite the misleading name, no brothers were involved in the founding of the Haven Brothers. Indeed it was founded in 1893 by Anne Haven, an immigrant widow who used her husband’s life insurance policy to purchase the horse drawn wagon that became the legendary lunch cart. Assisted by her daughter, Catherine Gannon, the cart grew into a legendary Providence food establishment. The Haven family sold their food cart in 1953 to the Mollicone family; the cart is still open for business every day at 5:00pm. Truly a Rhode Island institution, it has only left once since opening for operation. In 2009, the cart traveled to visit Today Show hosts Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira in New York City. Both Lauer and Vieira frequented Haven Brothers while working for Channel 10 Providence.