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2023 Inductee

Phyllis Van Orden Nathanson


Phyllis Van Orden Nathanson and her husband, Morris were a force to be reckoned with. For over 40 years, the couple were staunch advocates for Pawtucket, ambassadors and champions for re-purposing historical structures and visionaries for what the arts could be.


In 1986, the Nathansons purchased the old Rhode Island Cardboard complex, and over the years renovated the former manufacturing mill building (ultimately located in Pawtucket’s 307-acre Arts and Entertainment District) to become the new headquarters of Morris Nathanson Design. It was here that artist lofts and studios were also developed, creating a flourishing arts community where artists would live and work. The artists and craft people residing in their mill would subsequently become independent contractors that Morris drew upon to support designs he created for his restaurant and hotel projects.

With the experiences Phyllis learned in redeveloping their mill, she took on the development of the adjacent properties formerly known as Lebanon Knitting Mill and Vesta Underwear which sit on the banks of the Blackstone River. The project, Riverfront Lofts, houses 59 livework condominiums for artists. Phyllis envisioned this project of artists owning their own spaces and went on to sell over 85% of the lofts in Riverfront. This was considered the single largest housing investment in Pawtucket in over 30 years.

Phyllis along with her husband, Morris, were leaders in encouraging artists to rehabilitate vacant mill buildings throughout Pawtucket and statewide. As early advocates for mill adaptive reuse, they were in the forefront of creating Pawtucket as a highly visible and respected arts and entertainment center. Today, Phyllis continues that vision that she shared with her husband.

Utilizing her visionary business acumen, Phyllis has tirelessly promoted the city of Pawtucket by sponsoring and transforming public spaces with several pieces of the art and sculpture we see today in the downtown area identifying Pawtucket as an arts community. Her accomplishments, which are many, include saving the Pawtucket Armory to become a center for the arts in Pawtucket. She brought the Gamm Theatre to the historic armory where it thrived from 2003-2018. She brought the Foundry Artists to the Pawtucket Armory for their annual Holiday sale in 2002 where it continues to be held to this day. Retail businesses she brought to Pawtucket include Artee Fabrics on Main Street, the Mad House Café at the former Apex property, and LLB Architects, which did a historic restoration of 161 Exchange Street. She also brought Small Pleasures Florist to Blackstone Studios. Lastly, she was instrumental for saving the Fuller Manufacturing company for future building.

In addition, she is presently working to preserve her husband’s legacy by archiving his substantial artwork. Her husband, Morris, is a 2004 inductee to Pawtucket Hall of Fame and she is now honored to be given this prestigious award. She has also received awards from the Blackstone Valley Heritage & Tourism Council, and the Pawtucket Foundation. Her irrepressible belief in the potential of Pawtucket, her dedication to the revitalization of this community and her pioneering spirit in the arts are all the reasons we welcome Phyllis Nathanson as an inductee into the 2023 Pawtucket Hall of Fame.

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