2014 Most Endangered Properties List
In a city known for its extraordinary architecture, many historic buildings are threatened by factors such as neglect, insufficient funds, adverse public policy, and inappropriate development. For 20 years, PPS has been working with concerned neighbors, preservationists, and activists to put together this annual list. In recent years, properties noted on the MEP list have reflected additional threats of the continuing recession: foreclosure, low occupancy, and a lagging market. To raise awareness of these issues, PPS has made its annual MEP list an integral part of the organization’s advocacy efforts.
2014 PPS Ten Most Endangered Properties List (in alphabetical order):
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1. 57 Federal Street
2. Atlantic Mills
3. Bomes Theater
4. Doyle Avenue Historic District
5. Grace Church Cemetery and Cottage
6. Historic Houses of Worship (including Broad Street Synagogue, Cathedral of St. John, St. Teresa of Avila Church, United Presbyterian Church, Westminster Congregational Church.)
7. Industrial Trust building
8. Former Rhode Island Department of Transportation Headquarters and Garage
9. State House Lawn
10. Ward Baking Company Administration Building
57 Federal Street (Early 19th Century)
Atlantic Mills (1863)
Bomes Theatre (1921)
Doyle Avenue Historic District
Grace Church Cemetery and Cottage (1834)
Historic Houses of Worship:
Historic Houses of Worship are important to the historic and architectural character of Providence. They represent many facets of our community’s history and are often neighborhood landmarks. Each presents unique challenges to historic preservation, but each holds remarkable promise for the future. In 2014, we present four examples of endangered historic houses of worship.
Following a successful educational collaboration in the summer of 2013, PPS hopes to build on a relationship with the Partners for Sacred Places to bring trainings on the preservation and reuse of historic houses of worship to Providence.
Broad Street Synagogue (1910-1911),
688 Broad Street
Listed on the National Register in 1988, the Broad Street Synagogue (also known as Temple Beth El and Shaare Zedek Synagogue) was constructed in 1910-11 by the architects Banning and Thornton as the new home of the Congregation Sons of Israel and David. The building is a two-story Classical Revival building of Roman brick and terra cotta, set on a high basement of rusticated brick with concrete underpinnings. A low two-story, flat-roof brick and concrete block addition attached to the north side of the synagogue was built in 1958.
The congregation decided to build a new temple on the East Side during the 1940s as the population around Temple Beth El was no longer the German Jewish community it had once been. In 1954, Temple Beth El was sold to the new Congregation Shaare Zedek, which formed out of five smaller Orthodox groups in the neighborhood. Interior changes were made to reflect the congregation’s Orthodox style of worship. Over the years, the Jewish population around the former Temple Beth El sharply declined. In 2004, the congregation could not get the 10 men required for minyan at Rosh Hashanah. In 2006, the temple was officially closed and “desanctified”. On June 11, 2006, Shaare Zedek merged with Congregation Beth Sholom on Camp Street. As part of the merger, Beth Sholom received ownership of Temple Beth.
In the past three years, a group of students have initiated a number of fundraising efforts to revitalize the building called the Broad Street Synagogue Revitalization Project. These committed volunteers have partnered recently the Rhode Island Historical Society to conduct oral histories with congregants who worshipped in the building, and worked with the Providence Revolving Fund to secure funding to stabilize the roof. The group is currently seeking additional funds from a number of sources, and exploring the possibility of creating a non-profit to take ownership of the building.
Historic Houses of Worship:
Cathedral of St. John (1810)
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.
Historic Houses of Worship:
St. Teresa of Avila Church (1883)
Constructed in the 1880s, St. Teresa of Avila Church was built during a time when new ethnic groups were adding to the Roman Catholic population in Providence. This demographic shift was manifested in the move away from traditional Gothic architecture that used rugged stone construction in Roman Catholic churches.
The red brick St. Teresa of Avila Church features classical details and a large rose window above the Manton Street entrance. Built to serve a growing population in one of the most highly industrialized parts of the city, the church closed doors in 2009 due to a declining congregation. In recent months, local community developers and politicians have expressed interest in converting the site into an expanded Providence Community Library branch for Olneyville.
Historic Houses of Worship:
United Presbyterian Church (1895)
A beautiful brick and brownstone Romanesque church with a corner tower and arcaded belfry, the former United Presbyterian Church was built in the late nineteenth century to serve a growing population of immigrants from Nova Scotia. The church was active in the Smith Hill community into the 1970s. Over the past three decades, the building has served a number of other congregations. While the building played a historic role in the neighborhood’s cultural landscape, water damage caused by roof failures has left the church unoccupiable.
Historic Houses of Worship:
Westminster Congregational Church (1901)
This South Providence church was originally built by the Westminster Congregational Society in 1901, but has gone through multiple parish changes. In 1959, the property was sold to the Friendship United Methodist Church, a Swedish group founded in South Providence. When this congregation dissolved in 1977, the Hood Memorial Church (A.M.E) purchased the building.
A.M.E. still owns the property, although the congregation relocated over two years ago and building has rapidly declined. The roof is beginning to fail along with the building’s exterior stone walls.
Industrial Trust Building (1928)
One of the most iconic and recognizable buildings on the Providence skyline, the Indiana-limestone clad Industrial Trust Company Building rises over 420 feet above the Kennedy Plaza, capped by a 4-story square lantern. The Art Deco skyscraper features streamlined classical motifs above the second story, and set-back pyramidal massing required by an early version of the Providence Zoning Ordinance. Upon the opening of the building in 1928, Providence Magazine commented that the Industrial Trust “has already taken a place in the heart and life of the community.” PPS believes this should continue.
The quickly expanding Industrial Trust Company eventually became Fleet Bank, before finally merging with Bank of America in the early 2000s. High Rock Development purchased the building in 2008, and Bank of America remained as the sole tenant until their lease expired in early 2013.
In the past year, High Rock, along with City and State officials, has started to explore the potential re-purposing of the building. High Rock engaged Providence-based Cornish Associates to research a number of options, discovering in feasibility studies commissioned by both the High Rock and City of Providence that mixed-use residential redevelopment may provide the most likely market for long-term sustainability.
Following a presentation to the PPS Board of Trustees by David Sweetser, President of High Rock Development, PPS issued a statement acknowledging that this may be the most critical development challenge currently facing any historic building in Providence, and one of the most important to resolve. PPS will continue to advocate strongly for a viable re-purposing of this icon and offer expertise in preservation planning and development to the building owner and his development team, to the City of Providence, and to the State of Rhode Island and its agents. We look forward to tailoring the ways in which this engagement might take place to the particular circumstances of the property and its ownership.
Former RIDOT Headquarters and Garage (1927)
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.
State House Lawn (1901)
The Rhode Island State House and its grounds, constructed between 1891 and 1901, were greatly inspired by the City Beautiful movement, an extraordinary national turning point in city planning and design largely influenced by the work of Architect Daniel Burnham and Landscape Architect Frederick Law Olmsted. The Rhode Island State House, the design of McKim, Mead & White, unmistakably takes its cues from the "White City", the ideals of which were first expressed in the 1893 World 's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, and masterminded chiefly by Burnham and Olmsted.
The State Capitol, the physical symbol of Rhode Island's 'lively experiment,' was purposefully positioned to be the focal point of a spacious and verdant landscape, itself designed to be inseparable from the classical architecture of the building. The intentionally-conceived setting, with specimen trees and encompassing greensward, was a pastoral oasis meant to enrich lives in our egalitarian society. This cohesive landscape contrasted sharply with the surrounding urban congestion and was created as the province of all.
Following expansion in 2013 of the parking lot into the State House lawn and the proposal for new surface parking on recently acquired land on Francis Street, these parking initiatives may be in conflict with Capital Center regulations that have successfully guided development in the area. Significantly, there are also substantial preservation concerns at stake with these activities.
Recently, our state government has shown great dedication in promoting the heritage of Rhode Island through the creation of the Charter Museum and Visitor's Center. Additionally, investment in rehabbing the Amtrak Station is a positive step for the future of Capital Center. With the listing of the State House Lawn, the Board and membership of PPS call on the State to continue this positive momentum by exploring long-term parking options that do not sacrifice our common history and denigrate this most spectacular national symbol of the convergence of iconic architecture with its surrounding landscape.