2008 Ten Most Endangered Properties
Angell Street Streetscape between Thayer and Brown Streets:
127 Angell (1853),
129 Angell (1845)
and Lucien Sharpe Carriage House/ Urban Environmental Laboratory (1884)
PPS Most Endangered Properties List: 2008
The Sharpe Carriage House, now known as the Urban Environmental Laboratory, was built in 1884 for Lucien Sharpe of the Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Company. Designed by Alpheus Morse, the building is a 2½-storied barn with a mansard roof and paired entrances flanked by projecting end pavilions. The building mimics Swiss chalets in the modern gothic style. Since its construction, the carriage house has been the home of Lucien Sharpe’s coachman, a Pembroke College Dormitory, and the garage for the Kimball family. It was sold to Brown University in 1966 and was used as storage until the 1980s. Two years after the founding of the Center for Environmental Studies at Brown in 1978, the department received grants from the Department of Energy and the Richard King Mellon Foundation to retrofit the building for use as a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient mixed-use department headquarters. The renovations included living space for five students, a greenhouse, conference room, offices and lounge. It is currently used as academic space for the Center for Environmental Studies.
127 and 129 Angell Street are Greek Revival houses typical of the mid-1800s with gabled roofs and portico entrances. 127 Angell Street, built in 1853, is a three-apartment house currently rented to students. 129 Angell was acquired by Brown University in 1984 from Margaret Howe and was used to house visiting scholars until 2000, when the University began renting it to students.
These three historic buildings were in imminent in danger because Brown University had planned to build the new Mind, Brain and Behavior building on the site in spring 2009. Their loss would also mean the permanent loss of the historic residential context on this block of Angell Street. Through a listing, PPS hoped to help Brown find appropriate relocation solutions for the buildings and also communicate to the University that the community objects to continually sacrificing historic fabric for institutional growth.
In 2009 Brown announced a change of plans. Although it was still planning on constructing a new Mind, Brain and Behavior center it no longer wanted to do so on Angell Street. Instead of destroying or relocating these properties Brown has repurposed them, making them safe from any future plans.
Asa Messer Elementary School (1892)
158 Messer Street, West End
PPS Most Endangered Properties List: 2007, 2008, 2011
Built around 1890, the stately three-story, brick Asa Messer Elementary School is a fine Queen Anne style building featuring a cross-gable roof, elaborate corbelling, arches over the windows, arched doors, and tall, paneled chimneys. It was designed by William R. Walker & Son, the prolific architectural firm active from the 1870s into the 1920s and responsible for most of the prominent Rhode Island public buildings from that period, including the nearby Cranston Street Armory.
Beyond its significant architectural quality, this school is an important, historic resource within an historic neighborhood. Located within walking distance of its students, Asa Messer continues in the same functional relationship with its surroundings that it has enjoyed for well over a century and endures as vital visual landmark in the community. Like all too many of Providence’s public schools, it has suffered through years of deferred maintenance, but it is a solid structure capable of restoration and renovation.
The Facilities Master Plan for the Providence Public Schools, prepared by education planners DeJong, Inc., suggests that this magnificent building be replaced with a new school. In recent years, Providence’s public schools have been threatened with closure and neglect. Recently, the School Board voted to close Asa Messer Elementary School and Annex. Although the building has yet to be demolished to create the proposed new school, nothing is being done with it and its future is still uncertain.
Captain Joseph Tillinghast House (ca. 1770)
403 South Main Street, Fox Point
PPS Most Endangered: 2008, 2009
Capt. Joseph Tillinghast, who commanded one of the boats involved in the burning of the Gaspee in 1772, built the ca. 1770 house on a site claimed by his great-grandfather Pardon Tillinghast in 1645. The site was also the location of the first wharf and warehouse in Providence. The 2½-story, 5-bay-facade Tillinghast House has a center-hall-plan with two interior brick chimneys and a central, pedimented entrance with paneled pilasters. The house survived the 1801 South Main Street fire and is the one of the only remaining buildings of Providence’s colonial waterfront.
The highly visible house is suffering from severe neglect; the buckling façade indicates problems with the building’s frame. Additionally, the building’s position adjacent to the original I-195 and the riverfront puts it at risk. With the demolition of the old I-195, the house is bordering highly desirable, developable land, placing the colonial-era structure at even greater risk. Attention needs to be brought to these issues because this house is a significant artifact of the history of Providence.
In 2008 and again in early 2009, the owner engaged an architect and the Providence Revolving Fund to study a potential rehabilitation of the building. He hired an engineer to do exploratory work on the building’s structure. Previously he expressed interest in using tax credits to improve the building’s condition; however, there is fear that with the state’s moratorium on the historic tax credits and the closure of the old I-195 this building will continue to decline until it is beyond repair.
Fortunately, owner Andreas Mitrelis, head of Dolphin House Ltd. succeeded in his plans to restore the building. Although the once prominent brick façade of the building is now gone it has been refinished and is no longer in a state of deterioration. There are also plans of repurposing the building into a waterfront restaurant.
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.
Cathedral of St. John (1810)
271 North Main Street
PPS Most Endangered Properties List: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014
The Cathedral of St. John is the successor to King’s Church, organized in the same location in 1722. The building, as it exists today, was designed by Providence’s Federal-era architect John Holden Greene and built in 1810. The church is constructed in Smithfield stone with brownstone trim and combines Federal forms with Gothic detailing: the end-gable-roof Federal mass is articulated with lancet-arch windows with tracery. A clustered-colonnette porch introduces the projecting gabled vestibule, which supports a square clock tower and belfry with spiky pinnacles above it. Inside is a low-saucer-dome ceiling nave supported by clustered colonnettes.
The deteriorated church tower is causing the rotting of wood structural elements as well as cracking and crumbling of the interior plaster walls and the sanctuary ceiling. In April, 2012, the Diocese suspended regular services at the Cathedral due to the high cost of maintaining the building. The Diocese continues to be supportive to efforts to advocate for the building’s preservation. Over the past year, the preservation community has been encouraged by the leadership of the recently elected Bishop of Rhode Island, the Right Reverend W. Nicholas Knisely, and by the Diocese’s creation of a task force dedicated to addressing the Cathedral’s closure.
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.
Fieldstone Trolley Shelter (1905)
Blackstone Boulevard – In front of 585 Blackstone Boulevard, Blackstone
PPS Most Endangered Properties List: 2008
The trolley shelter was built in 1904, most likely by the firm of Stone, Carpenter and Willson, to accommodate travelers using the 1903 Trolley Line to Swan Point Cemetery. The shelter is an example of rustic park fixtures popularized by Frederick Law Olmstead.
In 1948, the Trolley ceased to operate and the tracks were removed, leaving the popular jogging path in the Blackstone Boulevard median. The trolley shelter was restored in the late 1970s; it was most recently used as an entry to the East Side Antique & Floral Festival in 2003.
Sadly, the trolley shelter had begun to deteriorate. Many of the cedar roof shingles had fallen off and the masonry, in some portions, dislodged and displaced. Some of the structural pieces cracked or were damaged. Additionally, it had been a victim to graffiti and vandalism. Swan Point Cemetery was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. In 1978, the cemetery’s boundaries were increased on the National Register to include the Trolley Shelter. The Providence Parks Department is currently responsible for maintaining the structure.
In 2008 the owners of Swan Point Cemetery agreed to cover some of the cost of the necessary repairs to the building, and in cooperation with the Blackstone Parks and Conservancy the $30,000 worth of renovations began. Currently, the building is used for public functions and an entrance to the cemetery grounds.
Former RIDOT Headquarters and Garage (1927)
30 Arline Street
PPS Most Endangered Properties List: 2008, 2009, 2012, 2014
A two-story Art Deco building with a flat roof and pier-and-spandrel construction, the former headquarters for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation is one of the only examples of the machine aesthetic in the architecture of Smith Hill. It was one of the first modernist buildings erected by the State of Rhode Island.
The building was acquired by the Narragansett Bay Commission (NBC) for their Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) project. Plans were in place to have the building demolished until the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission determined that the building would be eligible for a National Register listing through a Consensus Determination of Eligibility in November 2006. Terms of the sale required the current owner to restore and maintain the Art Deco building, and there were reportedly plans to restore the building to garage a fleet of trucks, but the building remains in disrepair and is being underutilized as a warehouse. No plans to begin work on the building have been submitted despite its inclusion on the 2008, 2009 and 2012 Most Endangered Properties List.
The building is now owned by Quality Food Company, a family owned food distributor that has operated out of Smith Hill for over 75 years. With the possibility of an extended State Historic Tax Credit program, PPS hopes to continue the discussion started in 2006 and explore rehabilitation options with the Providence-based company.
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.
Downtown Providence National Register District
PPS Most Endangered: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011
The overall quality of the Providence Downtown National Register District is being compromised by a number of factors: public policy insensitive to preservation; poor quality new design; unregulated demolitions; and the current declining real estate market following the previous boom. The Teste Block (2007 Most Endangered Properties List) exemplifies this threat because the 19th century commercial building, which has been vacant for four years, could be legally demolished without review within a year under the Downcity Review Commission guidelines, which allow demolition of buildings that remain unoccupied for five years. The current owner, National Grid, has placed nearly the entire block for sale. While the parcel on which it stands has little economic utility by itself, as a block it would offer its owner room to expand.
Teste Block (1860)
88 Dorrance Street, Downtown
PPS Most Endangered: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011
The Teste Block was built in 1860 to designs by Providence architect Charles P. Hartshorn (1833-1880) whose work is now exceptionally rare. Among the oldest commercial buildings in downtown, it is an important component of the cluster of those remaining along Westminster and Weybosset Streets between Turk’s Head and Dorrance Street.
Featuring red brick with white trim and paired arch windows, this diminutive yet monumental building is striking because of its relatively small size and significant as one of the last of the narrow, low-rise commercial structures in historic Downtown Providence.
Though previously used for office space on the upper floors and retail on the ground floor, the Teste Block had been vacant for three years. Then owner, National Grid, whose Providence office is immediately adjacent on Dorrance Street, had no plans to use or sell it. While the parcel on which it stands had little economic utility by itself, it offers its owner room to expand its local headquarters. In another two years, the owner would have able to legally demolish the building under Downcity Review Commission regulations, which allow demolition of buildings that remain unoccupied for five years.
National Grid however, had no plans of demolishing the building. Paired with support from Providence Mayor Angel Tavares, who urged finding ways to repurpose existing structures, a campaign began to find a developer interested in the property. Providence Capital LLC was just the group, as they not only expressed interest but planned to develop the property into apartments and restaurants. The said plans have since been approved and the necessary renovations are underway.