2009 Ten Most Endangered Properties
The Arcade (1828)
130 Westminster Street, 65 Weybosset Street, Downtown
PPS Most Endangered Properties List: 2009, 2010, 2011
A 1962 profile of the Arcade by the Historic American Buildings Survey declares that “this is a well-preserved example of an early nineteenth century business arcade, and an important, early example of the Greek Revival in Rhode Island.” Today, though, the Arcade represents much more to Providence residents.
As America’s oldest shopping mall, it originally housed 78 small shops and restaurants, and, perhaps even more importantly, its central corridor served as a public pedestrian route between Downtown Providence’s most important thoroughfares. The Arcade is a staple of downtown, part of Providence not only because of its national historical and architectural significance but also because of the personal significance that is has for so many Rhode Islanders. To many local citizens, the renovation of the Arcade for only a single tenant is disillusioning, because so much of the character of this iconic building is in its interior.
Built in 1828 and designed by architects James Bucklin and Russell Warren, it is constructed of granite blocks and stuccoed ashlar. Six Ionic columns on each facade are made of granite quarried and carved locally at Bare Ledge Quarry in Johnston, Rhode Island. The capitals were cut in Boston. Inside the Arcade, a linear central corridor spanning the Westminster Street and Weybosset Street entrances is lit by an impressively large skylight above; flanking the corridor is an evenly spaced series of glazed-front shops and offices on three levels, with balconies serving the top two floors. Tile is used on the first floor, and wood is used on the balconies and upper floors. This Greek Revival building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976.
In 2008, tenants were forced out of the Arcade in order to accommodate a proposed $8 million renovation that may result in the building’s transformation to house a single tenant. The Arcade’s impressive architecture and deep roots in both Providence’s and America’s history contribute to the concern surrounding the building’s proposed reconfiguration. Should the Arcade have been reconfigured for a single tenant, the integrity of the interior space, especially the public corridor, would have been severely jeopardized.
To the joy of local residents and shop owners alike, the plans regarding the repairs to the arcade were altered. The repairs were carried forth as planned; however the space would not be available to just one retailer. Instead, much like before the space would be available to multiple stores. A total of six shops were unveiled at the opening of the Arcade in 2013.
Atlantic Mills Towers (1863)
100 Manton Ave, Olneyville
PPS Most Endangered Properties List: 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017
The Atlantic Mills complex historically includes a collection of buildings on Manton Avenue with its original power source, the Woonasquatucket River, running behind it. One of Providence’s most highly visible and visually distinctive mills, it features almost-twin circular-plan stair towers topped with robust balustrades, high ribbed domes, and tall lanterns (one now missing). Otherwise utilitarian in design, a mill typically achieved architectural distinction through the ornamentation of its most prominent feature, the tower on its façade.
The mill’s eastern section, designed by Clifton A. Hall, was built in 1863 for the production of worsted cloth to supplement the original 1851 mill (long since destroyed); the nearly identical western section followed in 1882. Stretching west along Manton Avenue are small workers’ houses, originally fifty-seven in all—a remaining example of company-built housing in Providence. By the late 1880s, with 2100 workers, this was the largest textile mill in Providence. It continued to manufacture textiles until 1953.
After difficulties competing with modern textile facilities in post-World War II New England, several small industries and businesses were housed in the space. However, plagued by neglect, lack of maintenance, fire hazards and most recently flood damage, the Atlantic Mills is at risk. The towers, which serve as the distinctive “face” of the mill, are falling into a state of disrepair. According to industrial historian Patrick Malone, Ph.D. of Brown University, the complex is regarded as one of the three or four most important mills in the United States; loss of the towers would be devastating to the overall integrity of this complex. Today, the former mill complex serves as the location for the Olneyville Neighborhood Association and an indoor flea market. PPS has worked with the owners and managers of Atlantic Mills in the past, and hopes to explore new opportunities in the coming year.
Bomes Theatre (1921)
1017 Broad Street, South Providence
PPS Most Endangered Properties List: 2009, 2011, 2014, 2016, 2017
The Bomes Theatre is a two-story, Beaux Arts-style, flat-roof, brick structure with stone trim. It is embellished with elaborate terra cotta trim and detailed moldings on the façade. Architectural embellishments include modillion blocks, dentils, a projecting cornice, carved shells, and stylized designs. A sign reading ‘Bomes Theater’ is centered at the roof line. Plywood now obscures the original fenestration.
Following its use as a theatre, the Bomes building was occupied by Jason’s furniture. The property is currently owned by the Providence Redevelopment Agency (PRA). It is also part of the city-wide Industrial and Commercial Building District (ICBD), a thematic, scattered-site local historic district. Much opportunity exists for rehabilitation efforts that would greatly enliven the community’s art, theatre, and music culture. This theatre could once again thrive as a premiere arts venue on the south side of Providence.
A community meeting hosted by the City of Providence in late 2013 openly discussed the issues and preservation options for building. PPS hope to renew a discussion of problem-solving by engaging neighborhood stakeholders, determining preservation priorities with the PRA, and exploring realistic options for the building’s rehabilitation.
Captain Joseph Tillinghast House (ca. 1770)
403 South Main Street, Fox Point
PPS Most Endangered: 2008, 2009
Capt. Joseph Tillinghast, who commanded one of the boats involved in the burning of the Gaspee in 1772, built the ca. 1770 house on a site claimed by his great-grandfather Pardon Tillinghast in 1645. The site was also the location of the first wharf and warehouse in Providence. The 2½-story, 5-bay-facade Tillinghast House has a center-hall-plan with two interior brick chimneys and a central, pedimented entrance with paneled pilasters. The house survived the 1801 South Main Street fire and is the one of the only remaining buildings of Providence’s colonial waterfront.
The highly visible house is suffering from severe neglect; the buckling façade indicates problems with the building’s frame. Additionally, the building’s position adjacent to the original I-195 and the riverfront puts it at risk. With the demolition of the old I-195, the house is bordering highly desirable, developable land, placing the colonial-era structure at even greater risk. Attention needs to be brought to these issues because this house is a significant artifact of the history of Providence.
In 2008 and again in early 2009, the owner engaged an architect and the Providence Revolving Fund to study a potential rehabilitation of the building. He hired an engineer to do exploratory work on the building’s structure. Previously he expressed interest in using tax credits to improve the building’s condition; however, there is fear that with the state’s moratorium on the historic tax credits and the closure of the old I-195 this building will continue to decline until it is beyond repair.
Fortunately, owner Andreas Mitrelis, head of Dolphin House Ltd. succeeded in his plans to restore the building. Although the once prominent brick façade of the building is now gone it has been refinished and is no longer in a state of deterioration. There are also plans of repurposing the building into a waterfront restaurant.
Castle Theatre (1925)
1039 Chalkstone Avenue
PPS Most Endangered: 1999, 2008, 2009, 2011
Built as a one-screen theater in 1925, the Castle Theater is an example of the neighborhood movie theaters built throughout America as motion pictures became a common and affordable form of family entertainment in the early decades of the twentieth century.
The two-story brick theater is distinguished by a handsome Art Deco terra cotta façade punctuated by a stainless steel and enameled metal marquee. In the 1970s, the theater was remodeled to accommodate 400 patrons with three screens and served as the largest and most modern cinema in the vicinity. The cinema began to see a dramatic decline in business following the construction of suburban cineplexes in the 1980s.
The once-thriving small theaters in the neighborhoods of Providence (including Downtown) continued to be hit hard by competition from large movie chains. In 2000, the property owners, facing economic uncertainty, decided to put the theater up for sale. A neighborhood group, with the assistance of State Representative Joanne Giannini, was formed to work with the owner of the theater to find a financially viable use for the neighborhood gem.
In 2002, the building was the recipient of a PPS Preservation Award after its rehabilitation. The property owners acquired a $242,000 low-interest loan through the Providence Economic Development Corporation to help finance the restoration and rehabilitation of this historic theater. The project demonstrated how the preservation and reuse of a prominent local landmark can have a positive impact on its surrounding neighborhood. Despite the best efforts of the building’s owners, the building is again endangered. Although it underwent a $750,000 refurbishment, it was unable to compete with the larger, first-run cinemas and the owners were forced to close the theater indefinitely in April 2004. The building is suffering deterioration as a result of neglect and vandalism. Its rehabilitation could have a tremendously positive effect on the surrounding neighborhood.
In 2008, the Castle Theater was donated to the R.I. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RISPCA). RISPCA had begun to stabilize the building and was ordered to remove the iconic marquee from the façade, for safety reasons, by the Building Department. It remained vacant and deteriorating until 2015 when it was purchased by Federal Hill Pizza. The former theater has since been renovated and now fully operates as pizza restaurant.
Cathedral of St. John (1810)
271 North Main Street
PPS Most Endangered Properties List: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014
The Cathedral of St. John is the successor to King’s Church, organized in the same location in 1722. The building, as it exists today, was designed by Providence’s Federal-era architect John Holden Greene and built in 1810. The church is constructed in Smithfield stone with brownstone trim and combines Federal forms with Gothic detailing: the end-gable-roof Federal mass is articulated with lancet-arch windows with tracery. A clustered-colonnette porch introduces the projecting gabled vestibule, which supports a square clock tower and belfry with spiky pinnacles above it. Inside is a low-saucer-dome ceiling nave supported by clustered colonnettes.
The deteriorated church tower is causing the rotting of wood structural elements as well as cracking and crumbling of the interior plaster walls and the sanctuary ceiling. In April, 2012, the Diocese suspended regular services at the Cathedral due to the high cost of maintaining the building. The Diocese continues to be supportive to efforts to advocate for the building’s preservation. Over the past year, the preservation community has been encouraged by the leadership of the recently elected Bishop of Rhode Island, the Right Reverend W. Nicholas Knisely, and by the Diocese’s creation of a task force dedicated to addressing the Cathedral’s closure.
Former RIDOT Headquarters and Garage (1927)
30 Arline Street
PPS Most Endangered Properties List: 2008, 2009, 2012, 2014
A two-story Art Deco building with a flat roof and pier-and-spandrel construction, the former headquarters for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation is one of the only examples of the machine aesthetic in the architecture of Smith Hill. It was one of the first modernist buildings erected by the State of Rhode Island.
The building was acquired by the Narragansett Bay Commission (NBC) for their Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) project. Plans were in place to have the building demolished until the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission determined that the building would be eligible for a National Register listing through a Consensus Determination of Eligibility in November 2006. Terms of the sale required the current owner to restore and maintain the Art Deco building, and there were reportedly plans to restore the building to garage a fleet of trucks, but the building remains in disrepair and is being underutilized as a warehouse. No plans to begin work on the building have been submitted despite its inclusion on the 2008, 2009 and 2012 Most Endangered Properties List.
The building is now owned by Quality Food Company, a family owned food distributor that has operated out of Smith Hill for over 75 years. With the possibility of an extended State Historic Tax Credit program, PPS hopes to continue the discussion started in 2006 and explore rehabilitation options with the Providence-based company.
General Ambrose Burnside House (1866)
314 Benefit Street, College Hill
PPS Most Endangered: 2009
Located on the northwest corner of Benefit and Planet Streets, this remarkable house was built in 1866 for Ambrose Burnside. General Burnside was a prominent figure in Rhode Island society: a Civil War veteran, rifle manufacturer, Rhode Island Governor, and United States Senator. The residence is an early work by Alfred Stone, the most prominent architect in Providence during the last quarter of the 19th century, according to the Historic American Buildings Survey. At its completion in 1867, the house was described as “one of the finest modern houses in Providence.”
The Burnside House is a unique, highly idiosyncratic example of the Second Empire style, with its irregular shape, use of Nova Scotia stone, cast-iron trim and large semicircular bay set into the southwest corner. A small wing is located on the west side. The house is two-and-a-half stories high on the east, but its situation on a steep lot makes it three-and-a-half stories high on the lower western slope of Planet Street. Architectural details that contribute to the building’s unusual charm include a Queen Anne bay window on the second story and a porch that carries around the bay on the southeast corner.
In 1884, the building housed the Providence Children’s Friend Society House for Aged Women and the Providence Association for the Benefit of Colored Children. Today, it is an apartment building. Members of the community expressed concern that this beloved fixture of the College Hill neighborhood was falling into serious disrepair. Paired with the attention brought to this matter by the Providence Preservation Society, work began in 2010 to restore the property. Although restorations took place, the roof is still leaking and little is being done by the owner to fix that, due to the cost.
Grove Street Elementary School (1901)
95 Grove St, Federal Hill
PPS Most Endangered: 2002, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011
The Grove Street Elementary School was constructed in 1901 as a grammar school to accommodate the massive influx of immigrants to the surrounding Broadway-Armory neighborhood. The building was an imposing 2-story, T-shaped, brick structure on a granite foundation with a hipped roof and impressive chimney. The school featured brick quoins on the corners and modillion blocks at the cornices. The two entrances, originally separate for boys and girls, were recessed within arched openings, embellished with brick corbelling and keystones. Architecturally, the school signified a distinct presence among the multi-family houses of quiet Grove Street. The Grove Street School was part of the Industrial and Commercial Buildings District and was also listed as a contributing feature in the Broadway-Armory National Register Historic District.
The Grove Street School was closed in 1975 as Providence experienced a decline in its population. In 1983, the building was purchased from the city by a private owner. The owners began to demolish the Grove Street School in February 2001 without a permit and in violation of a stop-work order. The city filed a lawsuit against the owners, who argued during the trial that the building was unsafe and had to be demolished.
In April 2008, Judge Daniel Procaccini fined the owners for trying to demolish the school without a permit, but he concluded that the structure was a threat to public safety and he directed that the building inspector issue a demolition permit. The city appealed the decision, and in July 2009, the Rhode Island Supreme Court overturned the lower court ruling, stating that Procaccini had no right to order the city to do anything. Justice Paul Suttell agreed that the Grove Street School was unsafe, but he said that it was up to city to decide how to address it. The city ordered the owners to make major repairs to the elementary school, but the building had been open to the elements for several years and had suffered further deterioration. In 2011, the owners received the necessary permits to complete the demolition of the Grove Street School.
Downtown Providence National Register District
PPS Most Endangered: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011
The overall quality of the Providence Downtown National Register District, bounded by Memorial Boulevard and Fountain, Greene, Empire, Chestnut, Pine, Friendship, and Dyer Streets, is being compromised by a number of factors: public policy insensitive to preservation; poor quality new design; unregulated demolitions; and the current declining real estate market following the previous boom. The Teste Block and the Providence National Bank façade exemplify these threats because both could be legally demolished without review under the Downcity Review Commission guidelines, which allow demolition of buildings that remain unoccupied for five years.
Providence National Bank Building Façade (1940s)
110 Westminster Street
PPS Most Endangered: 2009, 2010, 2011
In 2005, developers demolished the Providence National Bank Building. They saved the 1940s-era 50 Weybosset Street façade, pledging to integrate it into plans for a high rise hotel. In October 2007, the project officially stalled along with the real estate market. Not only was the prospect of new development lost, but also gone were the historic Providence National Bank and First Federal Bank buildings.
Upon the failing of the development proposal the owner of the property wanted to demolish the façade, as he no longer wished to be responsible for its maintenance. Fortunately, he was unable to do so due to the terms listed in the demolition of the building. Currently, there are no plans of development and although the façade is still standing the rest of the former property is now a parking lot.
Teste Block (1860)
88 Dorrance Street, Downtown
PPS Most Endangered: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011
The Teste Block was built in 1860 to designs by Providence architect Charles P. Hartshorn (1833-1880) whose work is now exceptionally rare. Among the oldest commercial buildings in downtown, it is an important component of the cluster of those remaining along Westminster and Weybosset Streets between Turk’s Head and Dorrance Street.
Featuring red brick with white trim and paired arch windows, this diminutive yet monumental building is striking because of its relatively small size and significant as one of the last of the narrow, low-rise commercial structures in historic Downtown Providence.
Though previously used for office space on the upper floors and retail on the ground floor, the Teste Block had been vacant for three years. Then owner, National Grid, whose Providence office is immediately adjacent on Dorrance Street, had no plans to use or sell it. While the parcel on which it stands had little economic utility by itself, it offers its owner room to expand its local headquarters. In another two years, the owner would have able to legally demolish the building under Downcity Review Commission regulations, which allow demolition of buildings that remain unoccupied for five years.
National Grid however, had no plans of demolishing the building. Paired with support from Providence Mayor Angel Tavares, who urged finding ways to repurpose existing structures, a campaign began to find a developer interested in the property. Providence Capital LLC was just the group, as they not only expressed interest but planned to develop the property into apartments and restaurants. The said plans have since been approved and the necessary renovations are underway.
What Cheer Mutual Fire Insurance Co. (United Way) Building (1948-49)
229 Waterman Street, Wayland
PPS Most Endangered: 2009
When the statewide survey of historic resources was conducted between 1970 and 1985 in Providence, documentation and preservation of resources more than 50 years old at the time received highest priority. This left properties built since 1940, “the Recent Past” period, vulnerable to inappropriate treatment or demolition because they are undocumented. The What Cheer Mutual Fire Insurance Co. Building is a prime example of a Historic Resource of “the Recent Past.” In Providence: A Citywide Survey of Historic Resources, the structure is referred to as “a good example of the conservative corporate modernism of 1950s Providence architecture.”
Erected in 1948 as the What Cheer Mutual Fire Insurance Co. and designed by architect Samuel Lerner, this structure is a two-story brick and limestone flat-roof office building. The facility was donated to the United Way in the late 1970s by insurer FM Global. In October 2007, United Way sold the building to RI Acquisitions, a partnership of developers Andrew Rockett and Charles Irving. The building is currently being advertised for sale or lease.
Today, the building’s uncertain future has caused a stir in the community. As a prominent part of the Wayland Street area, loss of the United Way Building would dramatically disrupt the surrounding neighborhood. The corner location makes it an integral part of the current mixed-use development pattern. City Councilman Seth Yurdin actively campaigned for the building’s placement in the Industrial Commercial Buildings District (ICBD), which would require review by the Historic District Commission before the structure could be demolished. The building, however, was ultimately not placed in the ICBD and remains vulnerable. Plans to demolish the structure to make way for a suburban-style pharmacy with a drive-through lane had been proposed by developers. Although developers struck an informal agreement with Yurdin to drop plans for the suburban-style pharmacy, no further actions have been taken.
Historically, preservation of more recent architectural styles is less valued by the public. At the beginning of the preservation movement in Providence in the 1950s, Victorian-era houses along Benefit Street were razed in order to accommodate the relocation of houses from the early-nineteenth century and colonial era. There was little appreciation for Victorian architecture which was seen as garish; today, well-preserved Victorian neighborhoods in communities across the country are protected as carefully as are buildings from earlier eras. As the public’s appreciation for mid-century modern architecture matures, efforts must be taken to assure its survival, particularly in Providence. Providence was largely built out by 1940 and thus has comparatively few buildings from the post-war era. The What Cheer Mutual Fire Insurance Building, in addition to being a well-executed, good example of modern architecture is a rare instance of a form that must be preserved for future generations, particularly until a survey of these resources can be done and their significance is better understood.
Although the building has yet to be used for anything plans for its demolition have ceased. Its spacious interior and prominent corner location make it an excellent case for repurposing, however its future still remains unclear.