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60 Manning Street, photo by Stephanie Ewens

2003 Ten Most Endangered Properties

Christ Episcopal
The Christ Episcopal Church
Church of God in Christ Jesus (Christ Episcopal Church) [1888]
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
Cranston Street Armory
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.

Earl P Mason
Earl P. Mason Carriage House
Earl P. Mason Carriage House (1857)
Behind 296 Benefit Street, College Hill
PPS Most Endangered: 2003, 2007, 2008

In 1857, wealthy druggist Earl P. Mason built the clapboard three-story, Italianate house at 296 Benefit Street. Just thirty-three feet west of the house is this small, two-story, brick and brownstone carriage house, measuring twenty-five by twenty-seven feet, which served as Mason’s private stable. The building had a dirt basement, a ground floor and an attic. The attic is suspended by an interesting star truss, making the ground floor an entirely open space.

Nineteenth-century carriage houses are relatively rare survivors throughout Providence and are especially rare and unusual in this densely built part of College Hill. Located just off Benefit Street (behind 296 Benefit Street), at the end of Benevolent Street, the Earl P. Mason Carriage House sat vacant and unused throughout the 20th century. The building suffered from deferred maintenance, clearly displayed by its missing and broken windows and fallen brick.

The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) acquired the Earl P. Mason Carriage House when they purchased the apartment building and adjacent parking lot. RISD sold the carriage house to a private owner in late 2005. The owner installed vinyl replacement windows in the Mason House, unapproved by the Providence Historic District Commission, causing concern that any future changes to the Carriage House may be inappropriate. Fortunately enough the property was once again sold to yet another private owner who was intent on not only restoring the property, but also doing so in a way that would maintain its historical integrity. The property is now fully rehabilitated.

Grove Street School
Grove Street School
Grove Street Elementary School (1901)
95 Grove St, Federal Hill
PPS Most Endangered: 2002, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011

The Grove Street Elementary School was constructed in 1901 as a grammar school to accommodate the massive influx of immigrants to the surrounding Broadway-Armory neighborhood. The building was an imposing 2-story, T-shaped, brick structure on a granite foundation with a hipped roof and impressive chimney. The school featured brick quoins on the corners and modillion blocks at the cornices. The two entrances, originally separate for boys and girls, were recessed within arched openings, embellished with brick corbelling and keystones. Architecturally, the school signified a distinct presence among the multi-family houses of quiet Grove Street. The Grove Street School was part of the Industrial and Commercial Buildings District and was also listed as a contributing feature in the Broadway-Armory National Register Historic District.

The Grove Street School was closed in 1975 as Providence experienced a decline in its population. In 1983, the building was purchased from the city by a private owner. The owners began to demolish the Grove Street School in February 2001 without a permit and in violation of a stop-work order. The city filed a lawsuit against the owners, who argued during the trial that the building was unsafe and had to be demolished.

In April 2008, Judge Daniel Procaccini fined the owners for trying to demolish the school without a permit, but he concluded that the structure was a threat to public safety and he directed that the building inspector issue a demolition permit. The city appealed the decision, and in July 2009, the Rhode Island Supreme Court overturned the lower court ruling, stating that Procaccini had no right to order the city to do anything. Justice Paul Suttell agreed that the Grove Street School was unsafe, but he said that it was up to city to decide how to address it. The city ordered the owners to make major repairs to the elementary school, but the building had been open to the elements for several years and had suffered further deterioration. In 2011, the owners received the necessary permits to complete the demolition of the Grove Street School.

Masonic Temple
The Masonic Temple
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.

Providence's National Register Districts
PPS Most Endangered: 2003

The thematic listing of Providence’s National Register Districts was in direct response to the frustrations of neighborhood residents over the increasing loss of historic buildings listed on the National Register but without local protections.

A demolition delay ordinance for resources listed on the National Register would help the city to examine the importance of each resource and explore demolition alternatives with owners prior to issuing a demolition permit. PPS has researched demolition delay ordinances in other cities and towns and has presented this information to the Mayor’s office.

PPS continues to advocate for stronger and more comprehensive demolition policies to prevent further degradation of its historic neighborhoods.

Prov Produce
Providence Produce Warehouse
Providence Produce Warehouse (1929)
2 Harris Avenue, Smith Hill
PPS Most Endangered: 2002, 2003, 2007

The Providence Produce Warehouse was lost in 2008.

The Providence Produce Warehouse was built in 1929 to designs by the architecture firm of Jenks & Ballou as a hub for the distribution of meat and produce in Southeastern New England. Construction costs for the then state-of-the-art structure totaled over one million dollars and included innovative technology and building techniques reflecting changing transportation systems. Direct train access facilitated the transfer of goods from trains along the southern elevation and trucks along the northern one, while cable-stayed awnings sheltered the elevated loading docks of both sides. The brick facade on the northern side featured seventy-one loading bays punctuated by seven concrete towers. The art-deco detailing of the reinforced pilasters along these towers provided the only ornamentation on the functional building. On the southern side eleven windowed cupolas contained freight elevators to transfer goods among the building’s three stories. At the time of its 1929 construction, the Warehouse stood 965 feet long, 58 feet wide, and 25 feet tall.

Throughout the latter half of the century, however, the continued decentralization of industry, in addition to the introduction of refrigerated trucks and subsequent decline of the commercial railway network, rendered the Warehouse obsolete, even useless, by contemporary standards. By the 1980s the majority of the 174,000 square foot structure was vacant. The Federal government then purchased the structure and tore down the railroad bays and eastern most towers in order to accommodate the construction of an on-ramp to I-95. In 1999, the last vendor vacated the building.

The now 810 feet long building remains largely intact despite vacancy and deterioration. PPS included the warehouse on its 2000, 2002, and 2003 Most Endangered Lists to call attention to a unique and promising development opportunity. Interestingly situated, the Warehouse neighbors both Providence Place and the new “903” Condominium Complex. Its proximity to Waterplace Park, Union Station, and available parking offer further reasons for development. Meanwhile, its open layout affords a developer rare freedom with regards to its design. Since its first Most Endangered listing, the condition of the Providence Produce Warehouse has continued to worsen; an early morning fire in 2002 severely damaged the upper level. Another fire in 2005 was quickly extinguished and only burned wooden crates and pallets that were inside the concrete building.

The Warehouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 and is part of the City’s Industrial and Commercial Buildings District (ICBD), both of which provide considerable potential tax advantages for rehabilitation and ensure some preservation protection. Preservation-minded residents and several state agencies have expressed concern over the future of this important building. In 2003, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, the owner of the warehouse at that time, completed a preliminary analysis, which not only confirmed the structural integrity of the building but also advocated for its reuse as residential condominiums, and issued a public request for proposals from developers. Carpionato Properties, a developer with headquarters in Johnston, had recently purchased the building from the State after three years in limbo following the signing of a purchase and sales agreement.

With the expansion of interstate 95, the building was demolished in order to provide space for a stretch of highway.

West Broadway Elementary
West Broadway Elementary
West Broadway Elementary School (1904)
29 Bainbridge Avenue
PPS Most Endangered: 2003, 2011

The West Broadway Elementary School was constructed in 1904 by Gilbane Construction as the parish school for St. Mary’s Academy and was designed by the architects Murphy, Hindle & Wright. The building is a 3-story, brick schoolhouse characteristic of early 20thcentury design with a flat roof, modillion and dentil cornice, large bands of windows, and a triple-arch entrance loggia and cupola. The property continued to serve as a school until 2007, and it is part of the local Broadway Historic District as well as listed as a contributing feature in the Broadway-Armory National Register Historic District.

By the early 2000s, the West Broadway Elementary School suffered from deferred maintenance with the most apparent feature being the deterioration of its prominent tower, which is visible from many parts of the neighborhood. PPS first identified the building as threatened in 2003. Following years of work by the West Broadway Neighborhood Association and Councilman Bryan Principe, among many others, the building reopened in 2014 to serve the city’s growing middle school student population.

What Cheer Laundry
What Cheer Steam Laundry
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 Bath
Wickenden Street Bath House
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.