1999 Ten Most Endangered Properties
Jerothmul B. Barnaby House “Barnaby’s Castle” (1875; 1888)
299 Broadway, Federal Hill
PPS Most Endangered Properties List: 1999, 2000, 2011, 2012
Barnaby’s Castle is an elaborate 2½-story High Victorian mansion with a patterned-slate mansard roof, turrets, dormers and iron cresting. In 1885, the original 1875 structure was enlarged by the addition of a four-story, clapboard and red slate, 12-sided, conical rood tower with open loggia, and an elaborate conservatory with arched windows of stained glass and a circular-plan, open porch. The house is one of Broadway’s Iconic Victorians.
Jerothmul Barnaby was a self-made magnate in the ready-to-wear clothing industry; he also owned a large store at 180-204 Westminster Avenue. In 1875, Barnaby commissioned the architectural firm of Stone, Carpenter and Wilson to build the home on a prominent corner on Broadway, the city’s Victorian boulevard. The eccentric composition and ornamentation of the house break from the restrained traditions of the firm and are thereby attributed to the wild tastes of its owner.
It is listed as being owned by Broadway Apartments Inc, an organization known to promote community outreach programs and rented out at six different apartments. However, it is in a state of disrepair requiring not only a new roof but renovations to its ornate facade.
Castle Theatre (1925)
1039 Chalkstone Avenue
PPS Most Endangered: 1999, 2008, 2009, 2011
Built as a one-screen theater in 1925, the Castle Theater is an example of the neighborhood movie theaters built throughout America as motion pictures became a common and affordable form of family entertainment in the early decades of the twentieth century.
The two-story brick theater is distinguished by a handsome Art Deco terra cotta façade punctuated by a stainless steel and enameled metal marquee. In the 1970s, the theater was remodeled to accommodate 400 patrons with three screens and served as the largest and most modern cinema in the vicinity. The cinema began to see a dramatic decline in business following the construction of suburban cineplexes in the 1980s.
The once-thriving small theaters in the neighborhoods of Providence (including Downtown) continued to be hit hard by competition from large movie chains. In 2000, the property owners, facing economic uncertainty, decided to put the theater up for sale. A neighborhood group, with the assistance of State Representative Joanne Giannini, was formed to work with the owner of the theater to find a financially viable use for the neighborhood gem.
In 2002, the building was the recipient of a PPS Preservation Award after its rehabilitation. The property owners acquired a $242,000 low-interest loan through the Providence Economic Development Corporation to help finance the restoration and rehabilitation of this historic theater. The project demonstrated how the preservation and reuse of a prominent local landmark can have a positive impact on its surrounding neighborhood. Despite the best efforts of the building’s owners, the building is again endangered. Although it underwent a $750,000 refurbishment, it was unable to compete with the larger, first-run cinemas and the owners were forced to close the theater indefinitely in April 2004. The building is suffering deterioration as a result of neglect and vandalism. Its rehabilitation could have a tremendously positive effect on the surrounding neighborhood.
In 2008, the Castle Theater was donated to the R.I. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RISPCA). RISPCA had begun to stabilize the building and was ordered to remove the iconic marquee from the façade, for safety reasons, by the Building Department. It remained vacant and deteriorating until 2015 when it was purchased by Federal Hill Pizza. The former theater has since been renovated and now fully operates as pizza restaurant.
Church of God in Christ Jesus (Christ Episcopal Church) 
909 Eddy Street
PPS Most Endangered:1999, 2002, 2003
Designed in 1888 by the prominent Providence architectural firm of William R. Walker & Son in the Gothic Revival Style, the Christ Episcopal Church occupied the entire lot at the corner of Eddy and Oxford Streets. For decades, the church was a visual landmark in its neighborhood and was one of the finest examples of Victorian Gothic ecclesiastical design in Providence. The red brick and brownstone building, capped by an attenuated spire and fine molded detailing, represented a vital period in the social, religious, and cultural evolution of the neighborhoods of Providence.
Since the church’s congregation always remained a moderate size and did not significantly grow, the building was never expanded or considerably altered. The most recent congregation to use the structure was the Church of God in Jesus Christ, but the number of worshipers began to decline after 1950. The small congregation continued to sponsor a variety of social service programs for area residents, but little money was available for the preservation of the building, which was suffering from deferred maintenance. Although the Christ Church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, the congregation was forced to close the building in 1981. While the church remained vacant for many years, its condition continued to worsen. The building’s numerous stained glass windows were eventually removed, including the important north aisle window designed by Cox, Sons, Buckley & Co. of New York.
The Christ Episcopal Church was cited by the city’s Department of Inspection and Standards in 2003 after having received numerous complaints from neighbors regarding safety hazards. Besides including the church on the Ten Most Endangered Properties List, PPS also tried to work with the owners and city officials to find an appropriate reuse for the building. PPS toured members of the press through the church in the winter of 2003 in an effort to raise awareness of the structure’s plight. Unfortunately, the building continued to deteriorate to the point that major rehabilitative work was required before the structure could even be occupied. PPS planned to continue to advocate for this important landmark, but the amount of code violations was so extensive that there was little choice other than to demolish the building in 2006.
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.
Dr Raymond G. Bugbee House (1912)
223 Congress Avenue
PPS Most Endangered: 1999
The Bugbee House was constructed in 1912 on a lot situated on the corner of Locust Grove and Congress Street. The side yard of the property faces Elmwood Avenue, and the large multi-family house is visually prominent on the streetscape. A three-story, hip-roofed, brick-and-shingle bungalow style structure, the Bugbee House is fronted by a monumental, two-story, Tuscan-column galleried porch. The building represents the development of middle-class multi-unit housing in Elmwood.
Although the Bugbee House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Elmwood Historic District in 1980, the building was vacant and boarded for a number of years. The property was owned by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), but little work was done on their behalf in regards to the maintenance of the house and it was allowed to deteriorate.
Fortunately, the title of the Bugbee House was eventually transferred to the City of Providence and the property later changed ownership again. The current owners were more than willing to begin the necessary repair work on the neglected house, which is now a multi-family property.
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.
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.
Wheeler Martin House (1798-1824)
243-245 North Main Street, College Hill
PPS Most Endangered: 1999, 2000
This three-story brick residence was built between 1798 and 1824 as College Hill began to develop. Included in the original street plans of early Providence, the Wheeler Martin House is considered a significant example of local architecture and a giant contribution to the historic fabric of the surrounding area. With its dentil cornice, brick stringcourses, plate glass store front, and recessed entry facing the street the building is an example of contemporary tastes.
This building was included on the 1999 and 2000 Most Endangered Properties list due to an extended period of vacancy and neglect. The exterior of the building was in danger off collapse as it’s mortar began to deteriorate, meanwhile within the building vegetation had begun to grow from cracks in the floor.
Fortunately, Bay and Bay architects began a renovation of the building, consisting of repairs and converting it into office and residential space. However, it is unclear whether or not the building is in use or vacant.
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.