2019 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.
2019 Most Endangered Properties List
- Industrial Trust Building, 111 Westminster Street (1928)
- William R. Babcock II House, 145 Lexington Avenue (c. 1893)
- Rialto Theater, 119-121 Mathewson Street (1829, 1902, 1950s)
- Water Supply Board Building, 552 Academy Avenue (c.1908)
- Richard Brown House on the Butler Hospital Campus, 345 Blackstone Boulevard (1731)
- Beresford-Nicholson Estate, 288 Blackstone Boulevard (1908, 1919)
- Westside Park, Parcel P4, Peck and Dyer Streets
- Broad Street Synagogue, 688 Broad Street (1910)
- Olneyville Industrial/Commercial Buildings, Olneyville, various locations
- Saint Teresa of Avila Church, 265 Manton Avenue (1883)
Industrial Trust Building (1928)
111 Westminster Street
Years on MEP: 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
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.
William R. Babcock II House (c.1893)
145 Lexington Avenue
Years on MEP: 2019
Threat: Vacancy, vandalism
Unusual for its rubble-stone façade and turreted tower, this late nineteenth-century Elmwood property was designed by architect H. K. Hilton. In recent years, it has suffered from vacancy and vandalism. The house is located within the Northern Elmwood local historic district, meaning that a demolition application or proposed changes would be reviewed by the Historic District Commission. It is also a contributing property in the Elmwood National Register District, however this designation is purely honorary.
Though unique in its design, this house represents the rich late Victorian building stock from Elmwood’s era of peak transformation and urbanization. Its loss would diminish the historical architectural fabric of this south Providence neighborhood, where many grand turn-of-the-last century residences have already been lost.
Rialto Theater (1829, 1902, 1950s)
119-121 Mathewson Street
Years on MEP: 2019
This property as an architectural remnant reflects a most interesting mishmash of uses, styles, and eras—spanning two centuries—best understand today from above (via Google Earth). Originally, the property was the monumental Greek Revival Westminster Congregational Church designed by James Bucklin and/or Russell Warren in 1829. Following the congregation’s move to Elmwood, the building was used as a skating rink and, in 1906, was rechristened as the Scenic Temple Theater, home to Vaudeville and motion pictures.
Much of the second-story brick façade visible from Mathewson Street today dates from 1919 when the portico, or colonnaded porch of the church, was removed and the building remodeled by William R. Walker & Son as the Rialto Theatre. In the mid-20th century, the back of the theater was removed for a parking lot and the ground-level portion of the front façade given a new treatment for shops with offices above. The commercial use has shrunk to only a convenience store remaining open today with the other storefronts shuttered.
The remaining layers and open lot in the rear provide a fascinating opportunity for adaptive reuse where 21st century intervention at the back of the building can complete the sandwich. Surely a new use can be found for this valuable and vulnerable downtown infill opportunity. Otherwise, if demolished, Providence would lose a slice of its ecclesiastical and theatrical history.
The Riatlo Theatre is under the purview of the Downtown Design Review Committee and a contributing building to the Downtown Providence National Register Historic District.
Water Supply Board Building (c. 1908)
552 Academy Avenue
Neighborhood: Elmhurst/Mount Pleasant
Years on MEP: 2018, 2019
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.
Richard Brown House on the Butler Hospital Campus (1731)
345 Blackstone Boulevard
Years of MEP: 2019
Threat: Vacancy, lack of funding
The oldest property on this year’s MEP List is the earliest known brick house in Providence. The Richard Brown House stands on what was the 114-acre Grotto Farm until Butler Hospital was established on the site in 1844. Originally a three-bay, 2 ½ -story house, it was later extended by two bays to the east. The structure features a gambrel roof and original triangular chimney providing back-to-back corner fireplaces in two rooms, typical of early 18th century Rhode Island domestic architecture.
Although the present-day Butler Hospital campus has Providence Landmarks District-Industrial and Commercial designation, this important early Providence dwelling is not included and therefore not protected by the Historic District Commission. It is not in danger of demolition because the owner would like to preserve it, though the building does suffer from water damage from a failing roof. The house is threatened by vacancy and a lack of funding for restoration and future use.
This year, Butler Hospital celebrates its 175th year. As such, the administration nominated the Richard Brown House to call attention to this first example of a brick residence in the city as they develop a strategy to return the vacant and deteriorating property to use and raise funds for restoration.
The Richard Brown House is part of the inventory from the 1976 National Register listing of Butler Hospital.
Beresford-Nicholson Estate (1909, 1919)
288 Blackstone Boulevard
Years on MEP: 2019
Threat: Demolition, inappropriate development
In its 110-year history, only two Providence families have owned this large estate on Blackstone Boulevard. The stone and stucco house was built in 1909 by William Beresford and designed by Clarke, Howe & Homer in the Elizabethan Revival manner. In 1919, Beresford sold the property to Paul Nicholson, who engaged Jackson, Robertson & Adams to enlarge it; the property is still in the hands of the Nicholson family.
In addition to the main house, the extensive grounds include a playhouse (1930), cow barn (by 1926), formal garden, and garden shed (by 1937), all surrounded—and largely hidden—by an eight-foot stuccoed perimeter wall. In the mid-20th century, the Nicholson family sub-divided the property into three lots and created two new street addresses on Slater Avenue, the west border of the estate. The chauffeur’s quarters and garage (1924-25) are located at 315 Slater Avenue; it is the charming cottage-style residence built into the wall on Slater Avenue. Additionally, there is a caretaker’s cottage (ca. 1920) at 325 Slater Avenue with an adjoining greenhouse (a 1990s replacement of the original 1920s predecessor).
This unique property represents one of the last remaining large estates in the Blackstone neighborhood. With a sale pending, a developer has applied for a major re-subdivision to create ten developable lots out of the three existing. Permission for demolition of the house and ancillary buildings does not require approval from the Historic District Commission because the property is not within a local historic district. It is located within the Blackstone Boulevard-Cole Avenue-Grotto Avenue Historic District on the National Register, an honorary designation.
To date, the developer’s master plan application has been approved by the City Plan Commission and the project will continue through subsequent levels of review. Many neighbors have come out to voice opposition to the demolition of the buildings and concern over re-subdivision as drawn, loss of historic trees, traffic implications, curb cuts, and penetration of the historic wall. PPS continues to monitor the situation.
West Side Park, Parcel P4
Peck and Dyer Streets
Years on MEP: 2019
Threat: Development of Parcel P4
PPS joins in the anticipation surrounding the new public park currently under construction and spanning both sides of the river on former I-195 land. We are gravely concerned, however, that before the west side park is complete, land has been taken from it for private development of the Hope Point Tower.
Last year, we listed Parcel 1A on the East Side as an MEP citing inappropriate development as the threat. Also a I-195 District parcel, we were concerned that development of a boutique hotel on this site was not a viable development plan and not conforming to the setback standards required by the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council. Fortunately, this project has not moved forward.
Before construction of the new park broke ground and long before the Hope Tower succeeded in changing the city’s zoning ordinance and map, the sub-title of a March 9, 2018, Providence Journal article read, “Assembly OK on smaller park.” Shortly thereafter, the Senate and General Assembly passed bills to decrease the size of the park parcel (P4) by 23,004 square feet, or nearly 11 percent. In July, Governor Raimondo signed the bill into law, which paved the way for ultimate approval of the tower at the expense of the public amenity.
As the tower project develops in this new year, PPS will maintain a close eye on design review at the city level and further I-195 District activity. We will advocate to minimize the intrusion of a six-story podium (five levels of which are intended for structured parking) at the base of the tower—that can rise up to 600 feet now that the zoning ordinance has been changed. We want the design proposal to be as sensitive as possible to its park neighbor and not be a wall of louvered exhaust vents or an unwelcome eyesore on the west side of the park.
Broad Street Synagogue (1910)
688 Broad Street
Years on MEP: 2010, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
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. By the mid-20th century, the congregation built a new temple on the East Side in response to the declining German-Jewish community once prominent in South Providence. The interior of the Classical Revival synagogue is dominated by a two-story auditorium that reflects the turn of the century Reform movement accommodating the integration of families for worship.
In 1954, Temple Beth El was sold to the new Congregation of Shaare Zedek, formed out of five smaller Orthodox groups. Interior changes were made to reflect the 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. Following years of Jewish population decline around the synagogue, the temple was officially closed and vacated in 2006.
By 2012, a group of artists, educators, and residents formed the Broad Street Synagogue Revitalization Project. This volunteer group initiated a number of advocacy and fundraising efforts to revitalize the building; unfortunately, this group became inactive in 2014. In 2015, the building was sold again, and the owner rehabilitated the interior and installed a temporary roof. The building sold again in 2016 and no work has taken place since. Meanwhile, the temple continues to suffer from vacancy and neglect.
Temple Beth-El was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. PPS would like to help identify a new user and steward of this historic Elmwood place of worship.
Olneyville Industrial/Commercial Buildings
Years on MEP: 2019
Threat: Decay, lack of development, under-utilization
Back in 2001, PPS listed Nineteenth-Century Mill Buildings collectively on the MEP list. Threats, at the time, included deferred maintenance, high vacancy rates, and development pressures in addition to loss by fire and demolition and the contemporary struggle to save Eagle Square Mills. Individual mills have also been listed: Atlantic Mills (1893, 1899) on Manton Avenue has been listed six times since 2009 and Earnscliffe Woolen Mill/Paragon Worsted Co. (1898 and later), also on Manton Avenue, was listed last year.
Although 18 years have passed since the Eagle Square development and many former mill and industrial buildings have been adaptively reused with great success, many remain threatened by decay, lack of development, and under-utilization. The main difference in the intermediate years is that the City of Providence adopted the Industrial and Commercial Buildings District in 2002, the region’s first noncontiguous and thematic local historic district designed to safeguard this group of buildings against demolition.
This year, community members nominated two industrial buildings, the Narragansett Converter Station (1914) at 7 Dike Street and Mill No. 2 at Weybosset Mills Complex (1866), 239 Oak Street. Rather than listing them individually, PPS chooses to list all of the historical commercial and industrial buildings of Olneyville, where much of this type of vulnerable building stock is located. The intention is to draw attention to the properties still struggling to find new use, and financing, in the 21st century. These structures now have local preservation protection against development-initiated demolition, but they are not immune from demolition by neglect or vandalism. An important reflection of the city’s industrial heritage, PPS is hopeful that remaining industrial and commercial buildings will be restored and put back into use in the near future.
Saint Teresa of Avila Church (1883)
265 Manton Avenue
Years on MEP: 2019
Threat: Vacancy, lack of funding
Designed by William Walker & Sons and dedicated in 1885, St. Teresa of Avila Church was built during an era when newly arrived ethnic groups were adding to the Roman Catholic population of Providence. Originally, the church was built in the Gothic Revival style, identifiable by pointed-arch windows, to serve the predominantly Irish congregation. In 1932, the design was altered to reflect the Italian Renaissance manner with a rounding out of the pointed windows and arches—a change attributed to Olneyville’s growing Italian population at the time.
Today St. Teresa’s red brick façade from the 1930s expresses 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, which included an increasing Spanish population as late as the 1980s, sadly the church closed its doors in 2009 due to a declining congregation.
When St. Teresa was first listed as an MEP in 2014 and 2015, local community developers and politicians expressed interest in converting the site into an expanded branch of the Providence community libraries. That plan ultimately failed and the property transferred to the Providence Redevelopment Agency. Today the windows and doors remain shuttered, while the striking domed bell tower rises above Manton Avenue.