2018 Most Endangered Properties
Since 1994, PPS has worked with concerned neighbors, preservationists, and activists to develop the annual Most Endangered Properties (MEP) List. Its purpose is to generate interest in and support for the preservation of significant structures; to educate the public about the benefits of historic preservation and the extraordinary architectural resources in Providence; and to foster creative collaboration among property owners, developers, and other interested parties to bring about positive changes to each property. Buildings on the annual MEP List represent notable aspects of local community life and character, and span several city neighborhoods.
2018 Most Endangered Properties List
- Industrial Trust Building (aka Superman Building), 111 Westminster Street, Downtown (1928)
- State House Lawn, 90 Smith Street, Capital Center, Downtown & Smith Hill (1901)
- 5 Brown University Buildings in Path of Proposed Performing Arts Center, College Hill
- Leonard M. Blodgett House, 127 Angell Street (1853)
- Edward J. Cushing House, 129 Angell Street (c. 1849)
- Lucien Sharpe Carriage House, 135 Angell Street (1885)
- Norwood House (aka Benjamin Stevens House), 82 Waterman Street (1857)
- 86 Waterman Street (1857- 1875)
- Water Supply Board Building, 552 Academy Avenue, Elmhurst/Mount Pleasant (c. 1908)
- Gustave F. Mensing House, 216 – 218 Adelaide Avenue, Elmwood (c. 1897)
- Rhodes Street National Register District, Upper South Providence (c. 1850s- 1890s)
- Parcel 1A, South Water Street, I-195 Redevelopment District, East Side
- Knight Memorial Library, 275 Elmwood Avenue, Elmwood (c.1923)
- Broad Street Synagogue (aka Temple Beth El), 688 Broad Street, Elmwood (1910)
- United Presbyterian Church, 619 Chalkstone Avenue, Smith Hill (1895)
- Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, 12 Spruce Street, Federal Hill (1925)
- Earnscliffe Woolen Mill/Paragon Worsted Co., 25 & 39 Manton Avenue, Olneyville (1898 and later)
Industrial Trust Building (1928)
111 Westminster Street
Years on MEP: 2014, 2016, 2017
Threat: Demolition by neglect, demolition
Arguably the most iconic building in Rhode Island and rising 26 stories above Kennedy Plaza, the Industrial Trust Company Building was planned and built as the tallest building in New England and held that distinction for more than 20 years. The Art Deco skyscraper topped with a lantern features stylized classical motifs, friezes representing Rhode Island history, and pyramidal massing inspired by Manhattan setbacks of the time.
The highly regarded New York firm Walker & Gillette designed the building, and when it opened in 1928, Providence Magazine commented that the Industrial Trust Building “has already taken a place in the heart and life of the community.”
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. Since the building became vacant, PPS has hosted tours of the impressive banking hall; a lucky few have even seen the famous vault and legendary Gondola Room.
The building’s vacancy in the heart of downtown remains the most critical development and preservation challenge currently facing any historic building in Providence. Historic tax credits and collaboration among state and local officials, developers, and preservationists will be necessary for a full restoration and 21st century adaptive reuse of this local landmark due to the building’s age, size, and condition. While its future remains uncertain, the threat of demolition by neglect continues.
As the community member who nominated the Industrial Trust Building this year stated: “Demolition of the building would be devastating to the city’s skyline and architectural content… Everyone knows the ‘Superman Building.’ ”
State House Lawn (1901)
90 Smith Street, Capital Center
Neighborhood: Smith Hill
Years on MEP: 2014
The Rhode Island State House and its grounds, constructed between 1891 and 1901, were 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, designed by McKim, Mead & White, unmistakably takes its cues from the “White City,” the ideals of which were expressed at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago.
The State House, 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. This intentionally conceived setting with specimen trees and encompassing greens was a pastoral oasis meant to enrich lives in our egalitarian society. The cohesive landscape contrasted sharply with the surrounding urban congestion and was created as the province of all.
Use of land around the State House has fluctuated through the decades, with it being annexed for surface parking and later returned to lawn; the removal and replanting of trees; the relocation of roads; and the redevelopment of adjacent parcels for projects such as the train station. The Capital Center Commission was created in the early 1980s to adopt, implement, and administer a plan of development for the Capital Center Special Development District and help to manage changes. The district’s design and development plan, originally completed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill in 1979, includes a charge “to create a visual and physical linkage between downtown and the State House, emphasizing the radial views to the State House Dome.”
Last year, the Cultural Landscape Foundation listed the Rhode Island State House Lawn as at-risk in its annual compendium, Landslide 2017: Open Season on Open Space. This was in response to a request for qualifications issued by RIDOT for an intermodal transportation center to be built on the grounds. PPS will watch closely as plans develop in the coming year to ensure that new structures do not erode this important cultural landscape.
5 Brown University Buildings in Path of Proposed Performing Arts Center:
-Leonard M. Blodgett House (1853), 127 Angell Street
-Edward J. Cushing House (c. 1849), 129 Angell Street
-Lucien Sharpe Carriage House (1885), 135 Angell Street
-Norwood House, aka Benjamin Stevens House (1857), 82 Waterman Street
-86 Waterman Street (1857 – 1875)
Neighborhood: College Hill
Years on MEP: 2008
Threat: Demolition SAVED IN 2018!
These five historic buildings, which are contributing structures in the College Hill National Historic Landmark District, are under the threat of demolition or relocation (82 Waterman) by Brown University for a proposed performing arts center. Currently, the University is seeking an amendment to its Institutional Master Plan (IMP) through the City Plan Commission to move forward with this plan.
By PPS’s count, Brown has demolished 100 properties on College Hill since the 1950s. The demolition and relocation of five more buildings would result in the permanent loss of the historic, residential context of this block. PPS continues to communicate to the university administration that the continued sacrifice of historic fabric for institutional growth needs to cease, especially as other nearby areas for expansion exist in the Jewelry District and on I-195 parcels.
The Modern Gothic style carriage house at 135 Angell Street is of particular note. For nearly four decades it has served as the Urban Environmental Lab (UEL), arguably one of the first institutional programs of its type housed in an adaptively reused building. Built in 1885 for Lucien Sharpe of the Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Company, the carriage house was designed by Alpheus Morse to accompany and service the Sharpe residence across Angell Street.
127 and 129 Angell Street are both side-hall plan residences characteristic of the mid-19th century, with gabled roofs and classical features. The Leonard M. Blodgett House at 127 Angell Street, built in 1853, is in the Italianate style with a bracketed cornice and distinctive moldings over the windows. The Edward J. Cushing House at 129 Angell, dating from c. 1849, is an example of the transition in style from Greek Revival to Italianate with its temple-like form and articulated cornice.
The 1857 Norwood or Benjamin Stevens House located at 82 Waterman Street is in the Second Empire style with a mansard roof and elegant modillions under the cornice. The brick house at 86 Waterman Street dates from 1857-1875 and features decorative arched window reveals and a double-height bay window facing the Walk.
Water Supply Board Building (c. 1908)
552 Academy Avenue
Neighborhood: Elmhurst/Mount Pleasant
This former utility administration building is a bit of an architectural mystery. The Providence Industrial Sites and Commercial Buildings Survey dates the Water Supply Board Building to 1908, yet the current façade is more Art Deco in appearance than that date would suggest. The structure is a one- and two-story, flat-roofed, brick industrial office building. The streamlined design of the stone and steel-clad entrance and curved corner is probably a modification dating from the early 1950s, when the City bought the building for the Water Board under the administration of Mayor Walter Reynolds.
The history of its use is more straightforward. The Rhode Island Company had its Academy Avenue Car House at this location as of 1918. Ownership transferred to the United Electric Railways company three years later. By the outbreak of the Second World War, the property was transferred to the Supreme Amusement Corporation, and in 1950 it was acquired by the City of Providence for use by the Water Supply Board.
The Water Supply Board has vacated the property for new offices off Huntington Avenue, leaving the future of the Academy Avenue building unknown. Neighboring La Salle Academy showed interest in the property and is discussing the potential of its use with the community. Future uses, or demolition, of the building will require approval by the Historic District Commission, as it is protected under Providence Landmarks District-Industrial and Commercial jurisdiction.
Gustave F. Mensing House (c. 1897)
216-218 Adelaide Avenue
Threat: Demolition by neglect
Despite its current poor condition, the Mensing House, located off Elmwood Avenue under the tree canopy among many late Victorian residences, still speaks to its neighborhood’s earlier grandeur. This two-and-a-half-story, Queen Anne/Colonial Revival house features a semi-elliptical Tuscan portico and double-height, square-sided bay window topped by a conical turret. The façade is decorated with swag moldings and architectural applique above the former second-story window. The house was built by Gustave Mensing, superintendent of the Narragansett Brewing Company in nearby Cranston. Today, threatened by fire damage and demolition by neglect, it is listed for short sale by the City.
Rhodes Street National Register District (c. 1850s – 1890s)
Rhodes Street (19 Properties were originally nominated in 1982)
Neighborhood: Upper South Providence
Years on MEP: 2001, 2002, 2017
When the nomination for the Rhodes Street National Register Historic District was written in 1982, it was comprised of 19 contributing structures from the early and late Victorian period on Rhodes, Alphonso, and Janes Streets in South Providence. When the district was first listed as an MEP in 2001, six of the original buildings had been lost; today three more have been razed, meaning that half of the historic district is gone. Sadly, one of the finest properties, the John Smith House (1879) formerly at 252 Rhodes Street, is among those lost.
As stated in the National Register nomination, these houses exemplify middle- and upper middle-class domestic architecture of the 1850-1895 period in Providence. The majority of the earlier houses are set back from the street on ample lots laid out in the 1830s, when the Rhodes Family subdivided their ancestral farm. The later houses are more densely crowded and closer to the sidewalk on smaller plots from the subdivision of original lots. The street features a variety of architectural styles, including Italianate, Queen Anne, Greek Revival, and Second Empire.
Economic depressions, the intrusion of I-95, and encroachment of local hospital development have combined to dramatically reduce the housing stock in this neighborhood. The loss of houses due to arson, neglect, and vandalism remains a threat to the district, which is increasingly isolated. The Rhodes Street Historic District is an example of how honorary designation on the National Register of Historic Places alone does not protect historic properties. Protection through local historic districting is vital.
South Water Street, I-195 Redevelopment District
Neighborhood: East Side
Threat: Inappropriate development
Directly adjacent to the Providence River, Parcel 1A is a former City-owned property and site of a helipad that is now under the purview of the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission. In 2017, a development firm received Level 1 approval to move forward with a boutique hotel proposal on this small (.28 acres) and challenging lot. Other projects that have been proposed to the Commission include a heritage visitor center and a public sculpture garden. It is currently used as a passive park and the location of Providence Flea and numerous festivals.
Development on this site requires a waiver from the Coastal Resources Management Council because the Urban Coastal Greenway dictates a 25-foot construction setback from the seawall. New construction at this site would constitute the only building west of South Water Street between the Crawford Street and Point Street Bridges. The parcel is also just north of the pedestrian bridge currently being constructed to link College Hill and Fox Point to downtown.
The I-195 Commission’s design guidelines for Parcel 1A call for ground floor transparency and historic alignment to three former gangways, and prohibit surface parking lots or structures and curb cuts. The guidelines provide height bonuses for up to two additional stories, making a six-story building with active ground floor use and publicly accessible open space, among other requirements, possible.
The community member who nominated Parcel 1A for MEP noted that, “development will diminish the feeling of it being a public walk—though the boardwalk will remain, it may deter passersby by interrupting the landscape with a large private, commercial establishment.” The I-195 Commission has been clear about its intention to develop this parcel, however, they should consider the appropriateness of new construction on this site that hugs the Providence River. Resiliency and environmental consideration of the site should prevail along with public use, access, and amenity.
Knight Memorial Library (c. 1923)
275 Elmwood Avenue
Threat: Lack of Funding
This striking Italian Renaissance library opened to the public in 1924 as a memorial to Robert and Josephine Knight, funded by their children. The Knight family’s fortune came from textiles, and the library was built on part of their estate grounds on Elmwood Avenue. Designed by New York architect Edward L. Tilton, a student of the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, the building is constructed almost entirely of Indiana limestone and sits upon an impressive granite foundation. Purpose-built to house the Elmwood Public Library, it features a copper-clad hipped roof, arched windows, and a grand staircase leading to a magnificently ornate copper entryway.
Visitors enter a main central lobby with a circulation desk that is flanked by reading and reference rooms; three levels of book stacks are below. Gilded columns and moldings draw the eye up to a frieze decorated with plaster casts of the Parthenon, coffered ceilings, and a central skylight. The interior finishes also include stained glass, cast iron, and rich wood paneling, built-in cases, and benches.
In December 2017, Knight Memorial Library received a grant of more than half a million dollars from the Champlin Foundation for exterior maintenance and repairs including roof work, set to commence in Spring 2018. Jeffrey Cannell, Library Director, said that this is the first major work to take place at the library since it opened nearly a century ago. The need for interior renovations and funding persists and threatens the building’s ongoing use as a 21st century public library. PPS notes that the replanting of elm trees along the avenue would go a long way to improve and restore the landscape of the monumental site.
Broad Street Synagogue (1910)
688 Broad Street
Years on MEP: 2010, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017
Threat: Neglect, Vacancy
The Broad Street Synagogue (previously known as Temple Beth El and Congregation of Shaare Zedek) was designed by architects Banning & Thornton and constructed in 1910-11 as the new home of the Congregation of the Sons of Israel and David, in what was then a heavily Jewish neighborhood of Providence. It is a two-story Classical Revival building of Roman brick with a striking recessed Corinthian portico set upon a high basement of rusticated brick. The interior of the synagogue is dominated by a two-story auditorium that reflects the turn-of-the-century Reform movement accommodating the integration of families for worship. The synagogue was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
By the mid-20th century, the congregation decided to build a new temple on the East Side in response to the declining German Jewish community that had once been prominent in South Providence. In 1954, Temple Beth El was sold to the new Congregation of 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, and a low two-story, flat-roof brick and concrete block addition was added to the north side of the synagogue. Over the years, the Jewish population around the synagogue declined. In 2006, the temple was officially closed and vacated.
By 2012, a small group of artists, educators, and community residents came together to form the Broad Street Synagogue Revitalization Project. This volunteer group initiated a number of advocacy and fundraising efforts to revitalize the building. They partnered with the Rhode Island Historical Society to conduct oral histories with congregants who worshiped in the building and worked with the Providence Revolving Fund to secure funding to stabilize the roof. Unfortunately, this group has been inactive since 2014; in 2015, the building was sold again. The owner rehabilitated the interior and installed a temporary roof. The building was sold yet again in 2016 and no work has taken place. Meanwhile, due to continued vacancy and neglect, the exterior is being vandalized.
United Presbyterian Church (1895)
619 Chalkstone Avenue
Neighborhood: Smith Hill
Years on MEP: 2014, 2016
Threat: Demolition by neglect, Lack of funding
The cornerstone for this striking brick and brownstone Romanesque design, defined by its arched openings, was laid in 1895. The former United Presbyterian Church was built in the late 19th century to serve a growing population of immigrants, primarily from Nova Scotia. The church, featuring a corner tower and arcaded belfry, was active in the Smith Hill community into the 1970s. It has since served a number of other congregations. While historically it served as a foundation for the neighborhood’s cultural activities, the church has remained largely unoccupied for years. The current owner is seeking innovative redevelopment ideas, collaborative partnerships, and funding opportunities to save this Smith Hill landmark and to bring the building back in service to the neighborhood once again.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church (1925)
12 Spruce Street
Neighborhood: Federal Hill
Designed by John F. O’Malley of O’Malley & Fitzsimmons, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church had been a place of Roman Catholic worship since 1925. This Italian Renaissance structure features an elaborate façade and prominent campanile, or arcaded bell tower. The bright and modern stained glass windows by Marchese & Mammersma are the product of a major 1967 interior refurbishment.
Built to serve a population of 18,000 parishioners, mostly Italian-Americans of Federal Hill, the congregation dwindled to 200-300 people. Final worship services were held in November 2015, and the church closed indefinitely. In June 2016, the Providence Diocese announced that the closure would be permanent and that the congregation would merge with Church of the Holy Ghost, its counterpart anchor at the west end of Atwells Avenue.
The shrinking number of congregants coincided with mounting debt and deferred maintenance of the building, including mold and lead abatement, roof repairs, and bringing the property into fire code compliance. The closure, therefore, was in large part due to engineering, health, and safety concerns. Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, its rectory, and a detached garage are currently listed for sale for $1.25 million and described as a “unique site, great location, motivated, all serious offers considered.” The community member who nominated the church for MEP is concerned that the buildings will be marketed as a demolition and development opportunity. The church was granted protection and added to the Providence Landmark District-Industrial and Commercial list in 2017, thus any demolition plans require approval by the Providence Historic District Commission.
Earnscliffe Woolen Mill/Paragon Worsted Co. (1898 and later)
25 & 39 Manton Avenue
The Earnscliffe Woolen/Paragon Worsted Company Mill complex consists of 11 industrial buildings dating from the late 19th to the mid-20th century. It sits on four acres on the Woonasquatucket River in Olneyville and has a long textile and manufacturing history. The word “worsted” refers to a smooth yarn spun from wool.
The one- to three-story brick buildings were designed to accommodate specific processing stages of textile production and then adapted and extended over time as needs changed. The original section of the oldest building was designed by George Leach and built by the Providence firm of Maguire and Penniman at the close of the 19th century.
Collectively, the buildings represent an important connection to Providence’s industrial heritage, the way people lived and worked, and the use of the Woonasquatucket River as an economic engine. The site encompasses 115,000 square feet ripe for rehabilitation and adaptive reuse. The scale and scope of the project make it a prime candidate for historic tax credits.
The mill complex is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a local Industrial and Commercial Landmark, which means that its preservation is within the purview of the Providence Historic District Commission.