1998 Ten Most Endangered Properties
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.
David Sprague House
7 Harvard Avenue
PPS Most Endangered: 1998, 1999, 2000
When the David Sprague House was constructed at 263 Public Street in 1839, it was one of the few dwellings in the rural hinterland that would become part of the South Providence neighborhood. Built by a meat dealer, the house remained in an area that developed slowly until the mid-to-late nineteenth century. The construction of the first horsecar line into South Providence in 1865 spurred the residential development of the neighborhood into one of the first major streetcar suburbs of Providence. South Providence became a densely settled area and the Sprague House was soon surrounded by large Late Victorian-era houses. Since the original occupant’s tenancy, the building was continually used as a residence except for short period between 1936 and 1938, when it was a tearoom known as "Ye Little White House Tea Room."
The Sprague House’s 1½-story structure, an example of traditional plank frame construction, typifies the conservatism of rural building in the early nineteenth century. Utilizing a plan and construction methods that had been prevalent in Rhode Island since Colonial times, the house was ornamented with spare and characteristic Federal detailing of a type popular two decades earlier. By the mid-1930s, the Sprague House was already in a neighborhood landmark noted for its antiquity and quaint architecture. The majority of the house’s tenants have been appreciative of its historic importance and few major alterations have been made in the building. The loss of the few other early structures that may have existed in South Providence left the Sprague House as the area’s oldest and most well-preserved landmark. As the best surviving example of this type of domestic architecture in Providence, the Sprague House was individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
In recent decades, the area around the Sprague House decayed into a landscape consisting of several vacant lots and abandoned buildings. The house itself fell into a state of disrepair due to structural problems related to aging and was considered for demolition. However, around 2000, the Providence Preservation Society Revolving Fund raised the necessary funding to not only have the property restored, but also to have it moved to a more suitable neighborhood. Currently the property sits completely restored on its new location of 7 Harvard Avenue.
The Foundry (1872)
235 Promenade Street
and Smith Hill National Register District
PPS Most Endangered: 1996, 1997, 1998
The Foundry and the Smill Hill National Register District were listed on the Ten Most Endangered Properties list due to encroaching pressures from developers who were designing the Providence Place Mall and the planned Patriots Stadium. It was feared that this rare stone building and other structures in the District would be demolished to make more room or more likely provide parking for the new structures.
The Foundry 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 any more space. Plans were then developed to turn the dilapidating building into luxury apartments and office space. The plans were followed through not long after, and the multi-building complex underwent a period of renovation before reopening. The Promenade, located at The Foundry, continues to rent out luxury apartments and office space ten years later.
Manton Avenue School (1900 ca)
921 Manton Avenue
PPS Most Endangered: 1998, 2001, 2002
The Manton Avenue Grammar School was constructed as a public grammar school in 1888, replacing a small wooden building that had occupied the site since before 1855. Manton Avenue was one of 61 new public schools built in Providence between 1870 and 1900, at which time the city was experiencing a massive influx of immigrants. Designed by the prominent firm of William R. Walker & Sons, Manton Avenue was a two-story, hipped-roof, brick schoolhouse that continually retained much of its original, high-quality architectural character. Manton Avenue possessed unique classical detailing including a projecting wood cornice supported by modillion blocks, brick quoins marking the edges, and elaborate arcade porticoes.
Manton Avenue was owned by the state until 1980, when the property was sold and began to be privately owned. Remaining mostly vacant, the building suffered from vandalism and neglect, but nevertheless it was ripe for adaptive reuse as commercial or residential space, and it was also a contributing piece of the historic context of the surrounding mill district. Unlike other former school buildings, the Manton Avenue School was not landmarked as part of the development of the Industrial and Commercial Buildings District. Despite the efforts of the Preservation Society and the City Planning Department, the building was demolished in September 2002. The site is now occupied by a Family Dollar store surrounded by surface parking.
Neighborhood Commercial District
PPS Most Endangered: 1996, 1997, 1998
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.
Phebe Aldrich House (1845)
123 Sheldon Street
PPS Most Endangered: 1998, 1999
In 1842, Phebe Aldrich purchased the property now located at 123 Sheldon Street for $250 and had a house constructed in 1845. True to the Greek Revival style popular in the mid-19th century throughout Providence’s East Side, this 2½ story, five bay façade house includes several elements derived from classical vocabulary, namely its corner board. The building’s side gable design differs nonetheless from contemporary gable end homes. The house is included within the College Hill National Historic Landmark District, which was originally designated in 1970.
The Phebe Aldrich House was eventually left vacant for a number of years, and in its abandoned condition, it became the target of vandalism and possible arson. The building’s lack of maintenance disrupted the otherwise intact streetscape of preserved homes along Sheldon Street. Although the owner received numerous complaints from neighbors and the city, nothing was done to repair the property. By that time, the house had deteriorated to the extent that it was no longer inhabitable. The roof was in poor condition and water damage on the interior was extensive, the grounds were untended, the exterior features such as siding and corner boards were deteriorating from a lack of paint, and some of the windows had been boarded, while others were missing or broken.
By this point, the Phebe Aldrich House was in a dilapidated condition and threatened with demolition. Fortunately, the property was purchased by a private owner before the plans could be carried out. The home has since been rehabilitated and is now rented out as an apartment.
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.
Strand Theatre (1916)
85 Washington Street
PPS Most Endangered: 1998
Built in 1916 by the architect Thomas J. Hill Pierce, the Strand Theatre was one of eight cinemas constructed in Downtown Providence between 1910 and 1930. The Strand is the oldest of Providence’s three remaining cinemas. (The other two cinemas are the Providence Performing Arts Center, originally known as Leow’s Theatre, and the Trinity Theatre, originally known as the Majestic Theatre.) The theatre is a 3-story, stone-faced, steel-frame building with low-key late 20th-century storefronts, Corinthian piasters on the upper stories, and a decorative parapet. The building originally served as a motion-picture theatre and was in continuous operation from 1916 until 1978. Like others downtown, the Strand Theatre also provided office space in the front part of the building, both enhancing the building’s income and providing a buffer between the street and the auditorium.
In 1978, the Strand Theatre was remodeled to provide commercial space in the auditorium, and the accretion of mid-20th century storefronts was replaced by a simple, uniform, and basically sympathetic treatment. The cinema portion of the building served as a music venue until 1997. While the ground floor storefronts remained occupied at that time, the upper floors along Washington Street and the cinema had become vacant. A proposal to convert the unused theatre into a parking garage raised concerns about the future of the Strand, leading to its placement on the Ten Most Endangered Properties List.
In 2003, Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, a local music venue, moved into the Strand where it continues to host musical performances.
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.
Wickenden Street Bathhouse (1926)
455 Wickenden Street
PPS Most Endangered: 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003
Following the arrival of large numbers of immigrants in the early 20th century, the City of Providence began constructing public hot water bathing facilities in an effort to mitigate the obvious health dangers associated with the poor living conditions of typical contemporary tenements, particularly the lack of indoor plumbing, overcrowding, and poor ventilation. The Wickenden Street/Fox Point Bath House was constructed in 1926 in the Fox Point neighborhood according to Resolution 208 of the Commissioner of Public Works. The structure was a brick, 1-story, approximately 2,500 square foot building with a slate hip roof and a monitor. The Bath House provided area residents with a way to stay healthy and clean as well as a social center and community meeting place.
The structure served as a bath house until 1953, when city zoning mandated that all residential buildings have hot running water and made the facility on Wickenden Street obsolete. The building, which is directly adjacent to the Vartan Gregorian (Fox Point) Elementary School, was used as a library and a storage area from 1960 to 1970, but later fell into neglect in the 1970s. For the next few decades, the city-owned property remained vacant and suffered from a lack of maintenance. By the late-1990s, windows in the roof monitor were broken and uncovered, which made it possible for pigeons to infest the structure. One basement window was broken and left unsecured, providing easy access for rodents, vagrants, and vandals. Water was also entering the structure, where slates on the roof had failed and needed to be replaced. Despite its derelict condition, the Wickenden Street Bath House was still fundamentally sound and was a crucial link to understanding a piece of Providence’s history, when bath houses were commonplace in many city neighborhoods.
Efforts to attract state and city attention to the Wickenden Street property received tremendous community support. After the building was on the Ten Most Endangered Properties List several times, the city undertook plans to renovate the structure and incorporate it into the Vartan Gregorian Elementary School. Through a mix of significant state and city financial support, a complete renovation and restoration of the historic building was completed in the mid-2000s. Currently, the top floor of the building is used as the library for the elementary school, and the lower floor is utilized as multi-purpose space for the school and available for community use as well.