Providence City Council Passes Resolution on Southwest Pavilion
Urges Rhode Island Hospital and Lifespan to Preserve Building
The Southwest Pavilion is getting support from the Providence City Council. On July 7, the Council passed a resolution calling on Rhode Island Hospital and Lifespan to preserve the Pavilion. In it, the City Council affirmed that it "has a moral obligation to honor and preserve the landmarks and historically significant structures that connect us to our past and make our city a vibrant, beautiful, and unique place to live" and therefore "urge[d] Rhode Island Hospital and Lifespan to consider all options and do everything in their power to preserve the historic Southwest Pavilion." The bill was introduced by Ward 5 Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan, and co-sponsored by almost half the council.
Located at the heart of the Hospital's campus, the Southwest Pavilion was included on the PPS Most Endangered Properties list in 2010, and 2016 and stands as one of the only survivors from the original Hospital landscape. Its loss would be devastating to the city's sense of history.
As we noted last month, ordered by the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Providence City Plan Commission granted Rhode Island Hospital the amendment to their Institutional Master Plan (IMP) at their June 21 meeting. RI Hospital can request a permit for demolition at any time because the Pavilion is not in a historic district. The decision to demolish the pavilion is ultimately in their hands.
The Council resolution cannot prevent the Hospital from demolishing the Pavilion, and, barring a complete turnaround on the Hospital's part, it looks like Providence will lose the Southwest Pavilion. However, a public showing of support does send a message to RI Hospital and Lifespan that this building matters. We are calling on Mayor Jorge Elorza to follow the example of the Council and urge RI Hospital to save the Pavilion.
Want to lend a hand? Contact the Mayor's Office, and let him know you think this building matters, too.
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Begun in 1898 to designs by the Providence firm Stone, Carpenter & Willson, Southwest Pavilion was the third building erected in the Rhode Island Hospital complex(1). The first building, completed in 1864, was a collaboration of Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan, who oversaw its programmatic development, and local architect Alpheus C. Morse, who designed the exterior of the polychrome High Victorian Gothic building, more or less on the site of the cruciform-plan main building, which replaced it in the mid-20th century. The Taft Outpatient Building (Stone, Carpenter & Willson, architects), was located northeast of the main building in 1891.
The red-brick, T-plan Southwest Pavilion was constructed to serve women and children—with wards for each and a playroom for the latter—and to house the hospital’s first pathological laboratory. Architecturally, it took its cues from Morse’s 1864 building(2): four-and-a-half stories high with polychrome-stone drip-mold lintels over the windows, a large semi-duodectagonal-plan copper-clad bay window across its south elevation, and high, horizontally-striped slate hip roof with small dormers, octagonal-plan spired cupola centered on the ridgeline of the south wing, and square-plan peak roof above the west end of the north wing.
The Southwest Pavilion’s significance is both historical and architectural. It represents the institution’s early steps toward the specialization and physical separation of programmatic activities that characterize modern medical campuses; as such it physically represents an important phase in the hospital’s historical development. Architecturally, it represents late 19th-century institutional architecture and—through its similarity to the original main building—demonstrates the intention of creating a visually integrated campus. Stone, Carpenter & Willson had designed a similar companion building, Lippitt Hall, the previous year (1897) on the University of Rhode Island campus in Kingston; while dramatically different in massing and materials (random-sourse rock-face granite blocks at U.R.I.) from the Southwest Pavilion, Lippitt is very much a companion to the similarly designed buildings already built on the U.R.I. campus.
Southwest Pavilion’s architectural character is somewhat compromised, both by larger later buildings crowded close to it on its north, east, and south elevations—shielding it from easy view—and by its loss of context following the demolition of the 1864 main building. While the fact of its construction reveals institutional intentions of expansion, that very expansion was ultimately more driven by escalating programmatic requirements and by need to accommodate numerous increasingly larger buildings on the campus than to create a welcoming intitutional campus.
Wm McKenzie Woodward
Click on the link below to read some compelling community memories of the Southwest Pavilion.
SWP Community Memories (pdf)
1: The Providence Intent-to-Build permit, dated 13 April 1898, indicates that Gilbane Brothers was the builder and that the projected cost was $150,000.
2: An early 20th century postcard view of the original building and the Southwest Pavilion make clear this similarity.