1996-97 Ten Most Endangered Properties
The Benjamin Dyer Block (1820)
119-219 Weybosset Street
PPS Most Endangered: 1995, 1996, 1997, 2010, 2011 (Providence National register District)
The Benjamin Dyer Block, built around 1820, was the work of carpenter-architect John Holden Greene. Originally built by Benjamin Dyer for his four daughters, four attached row houses of four and five bays each comprise this handsome, Federal-style, 200-foot-long, eighteen bay row. Each of the four entrances are recessed and set under a brownstone arch.
The 3½-story, stone-trimmed, brick structure is distinguished by its unique roof, the western half displays a hip roof with monitor from which rises a paneled balustrade, while the eastern half includes a mansard roof, the result of the 1882 renovation by then owners Thomas J. Stead and Salma Manton.
The first story of the building boasts nineteenth and twentieth century storefronts while double hung sash windows of brownstone surrounds line the second and third stories. Although the building has been heavily altered throughout its history, the Benjamin Dyer Block still remains one of the more readily identifiable remnants of the early 19th century development of this once residential neighborhood. Despite some renovations to the second floor of the building, the westernmost half of the block has serious structural conditions that could cause the entire façade to collapse.
Cranston Street Armory (1907)
310 Cranston Street
PPS Most Endangered: 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003
Originally the Dexter Training ground, the property was willed to the city of Providence in 1824 by Ebenezer Knight Dexter, who specified that the land be used for military training. Accordingly, the grounds were used during the civil war for the encampment and drill field for Rhode Island Regiments. However, after the war the land was used more as a playground and common area. In 1893 it became part of the Providence Parks System, although it was still used periodically for military drills.
The building was constructed in 1907 to house the Rhode Island National Guard. It was designed by the architectural firm of William R. Walker and Sons. The castle-like structure is made of yellow brick, copper flashing, and is topped with a slate roof. In order to accommodate the large building, preexisting properties had been demolished. The building itself became a defining feature of the neighborhood and many local functions were held there.
Unfortunately, the building was vacated by the National Guard in 1996 due to rising upkeep costs and the need for upgrades. The property has remained since then. While different plans have arisen regarding what to do with the property, the interior of the building became unuseable due to structural damage resulting from severe neglect.
Fortunately, Governor Chaffee showed interest in this property and all other state-owned historic properties. He requested and received $1,000,000 for the restoration of this property. Additionally, he put aside more in state funding, and although the building is still vacant, necessary repairs are underway to make it usable once more.
The Foundry (1872)
235 Promenade Street
PPS Most Endangered: 1996, 1997, 1998
The Foundry is rare stone industrial building dating from 1872, it was listed on the Ten Most Endangered Properties List due encroaching pressures from developers who were designing the Providence Place Mall and the planned Patriots Stadium. It was feared that this building would be demolished to make more room or more likely provide parking for the new structures.
The building finally received the attention it deserved in 2004 when plans for the Patriot Stadium were moved from Providence to Foxboro and it became clear that the Providence Place Mall wouldn’t require anymore space. Plans were then developed to turn the dilapidating building into luxury apartments and office space. The plans were followed through upon not long after and the multi-building complex underwent a period of renovation before reopening. The Promenade, at The Foundry continues to rent out luxury apartments and office space ten years later.
The Gorham Manufacturing Complex
333 Adelaide Avenue
PPS Most Endangered: 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997
The Gorham Mill Complex, which was listed on the Most Endangered Properties List four times, was lost in 1998.
It was once the center of operations for the world-famous Gorham Manufacturing Company, however it came to be owned by the State of Rhode Island once the company shut down. Despite attempts at repurposing the building was in an extreme state of disrepair and neglect that led to its demolition.
The Masonic Temple (1926)
5 Avenue of the Arts
PPS Most Endangered: 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003
It would be no understatement to say that the Masonic Temple Building has been in danger ever since it was first built. Construction began on both the temple and adjoining Veterans Memorial Auditorium in 1926, but was prematurely halted in 1928 and never restarted due to the great depression.
In 1945, the state acquired both properties and completed construction of the auditorium, but neglected to complete the temple. The imposing neoclassical edifice then stood alongside the state house on Smith Hill for almost three-quarters of a century and had not once been occupied. Its copper roof stolen by scavengers, the interior of the building was exposed to the elements furthering the damage already done by decades of neglect. Despite the excess of damage the buildings structure, made of stone and steel had remained undamaged.
After spending more time on the Ten Most Endangered Properties list than any other structure, and undergoing consideration for many repurposing attempts that ultimately fell through, the Masonic Temple finally received the attention it deserved in late 2003 when Sage Hospitality Resources began talks with the state about transforming the building into a luxury hotel. Needless to say the state was more than happy to fill the long vacant building, and the building was transformed into the Renaissance Providence.
Neighborhood Commercial District
PPS Most Endangered: 1996, 1997, 1999
Like many neighborhood shopping districts across the country that are faced with competition from shopping malls and large development store chains, Providence’s neighborhood shopping districts are similarly struggling for survival. This district was added to the list due to two projects that had the capacity to drastically alter the district, those being the Providence Place Mall and the then proposed Patriots Stadium. Although the plans for the stadium have long since been canceled the introduction of the Providence Place Mall has increased competition with local shops.
At the time, plans for implementing a National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street Program in Rhode Island were considered. These plans would have aided small shops in their ability to compete with larger chains located within the mall, as well as implement a revitalization program. The program would have implemented a four point approach focusing on: design, organization, promotion, and economic restructuring.
P. Frances Walker House (1887)
125 Parade Street
PPS Most Endangered: 1996, 1997
The two and a half story Queen Anne Style home was added to the Ten Most Endangered Properties List in 1996 due to an extended period of vacancy during which the property began to fall into disrepair. Like so many other properties the city began to consider demolishing the home.
Before these plans could be carried through the home was purchased and restored. Despite minor setbacks, such as a fire breaking out during the repair work the property was fully restored and once again sold. The property is currently inhabited and no longer in danger of demolition.
The Phenix Iron Foundry (1884)
110 Elm Street
PPS Most Endangered: 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998
The Phenix Iron Foundry, a rare stone industrial building dating from 1848 was once a prominent manufacturer in the Jewelry District, was listed on the Ten Most Endangered Properties List for five consecutive years. Due to years of deferred maintenance, neglect, and vacancy the structure's overall condition continues to worsen at a rapid rate; entire sections of the roof had collapsed causing severe damage to the interior and threatening its usability.
In 1998 developers took an interest in the building and saw an opportunity to revive the property to its once noble state. Unfortunately, the plans that the developers proposed involved the demolition of the adjacent buildings along with the buildings prominent smokestack. However, it did include preserving the main facility as well as making it useable as office space. Most recently the building was purchased by Brown University and is currently in use as their Office of Development.
Pine Street National Register District
PPS Most Endangered: 1996, 1997
A fashionable neighborhood in the mid-1800’s, the houses in the Pine Street National Register District still maintain much of their former glory. Since it was listed aon the National Register in 1977, over 1/3 of the buildings in this district have been demolished. Efforts to restore homes in the area have met with mixed success.
The home at 475 Pine Street is a particularly poignant example. This triple-decker was purchased by Paul Mandigo in the 1980’s. Mr. Mandigo completely restored the house, even rebuilding a two-story porch that had been removed long ago. Unfortunately, Mr. Mandigo unexpectedly passed away leaving the house vacant. The house has since been vandalized, leaving its future in jeopardy.
What Cheer Laundry (1906)
93 Cranston Street, West End
PPS Most Endangered: 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2007
What Cheer Laundry was lost in 2008.
In 1896, English immigrant William E. Louttit founded Louttit’s Home Hand Laundry. The small business grew and grew and moved to larger and larger facilities until finally purchasing two large brick buildings, previously What Cheer Steam Laundry, on Cranston Street in 1918. This complex, built in 1906, has a handsome Georgian Revival office block, with projecting pedimented entrance, as its frontispiece; the complex originally boasted over 280,000 square feet. By 1925, Louttit had grown to the largest laundry facility in Rhode Island with over 150 employees and sixteen outlets statewide. After ninety years of family ownership, the Louttit family sold its name and facility for 1.2 million dollars in 1985. Two years later the new owners, facing bankruptcy, closed the laundry works and auctioned the site. The building has since remained vacant.
The abandonment of this structure has led to its rapid deterioration. In response, PPS has included the Louttit Laundry on the Most Endangered List seven times since 1995 in an effort to attract a developer. The property sits prominently at the entrance to the Broadway-Armory Historic District; its restoration would further reactivate Hoyle Square and thus encourage further development along Cranston Street and the surrounding neighborhood. In 1998, a film studio executive expressed interest in developing the property into upscale apartments, giving hope to preservationists and neighbors. Still, the development proposal, like others before and since, fell through.
In 2001, a fire destroyed the rear half of the complex, thus greatly diminishing the potential of the structure for redevelopment. Preservation groups and local residents remain committed to the restoration of the Louttit Laundry, advocates for which recognize many viable options for its redevelopment as residential, commercial, or entertainment space. Ironically, the 2001 fire has increased available funding from statewide and national Brownfield redevelopment assistance funds, which would facilitate the cleanup of any on-site contaminants. In 2004 the building was listed on National Register of Historic Places, establishing its eligibility for Federal Tax Credits. The building is now property of the City of Providence and Stop Wasting Abandoned Property (SWAP) has the development rights. The Providence Historic District Commission has granted approval to demolish all but the first ten feet of the Cranston Street façade so that environmental remediation may take place. The city was reportedly investigating ways to remediate the environmental problems but the building continued to sit abandoned and deteriorate, until it was demolished in 2008.