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Downtown Providence

2010 Ten Most Endangered Properties

The Arcade
The Arcade (1828); Photo by Traer Scott
The Arcade (1828)
130 Westminster Street, 65 Weybosset Street, Downtown
PPS Most Endangered Properties List: 2009, 2010, 2011

A 1962 profile of the Arcade by the Historic American Buildings Survey declares that “this is a well-preserved example of an early nineteenth century business arcade, and an important, early example of the Greek Revival in Rhode Island.” Today, though, the Arcade represents much more to Providence residents.

As America’s oldest shopping mall, it originally housed 78 small shops and restaurants, and, perhaps even more importantly, its central corridor served as a public pedestrian route between Downtown Providence’s most important thoroughfares. The Arcade is a staple of downtown, part of Providence not only because of its national historical and architectural significance but also because of the personal significance that is has for so many Rhode Islanders. To many local citizens, the renovation of the Arcade for only a single tenant is disillusioning, because so much of the character of this iconic building is in its interior.

Built in 1828 and designed by architects James Bucklin and Russell Warren, it is constructed of granite blocks and stuccoed ashlar. Six Ionic columns on each facade are made of granite quarried and carved locally at Bare Ledge Quarry in Johnston, Rhode Island. The capitals were cut in Boston. Inside the Arcade, a linear central corridor spanning the Westminster Street and Weybosset Street entrances is lit by an impressively large skylight above; flanking the corridor is an evenly spaced series of glazed-front shops and offices on three levels, with balconies serving the top two floors. Tile is used on the first floor, and wood is used on the balconies and upper floors. This Greek Revival building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

In 2008, tenants were forced out of the Arcade in order to accommodate a proposed $8 million renovation that may result in the building’s transformation to house a single tenant. The Arcade’s impressive architecture and deep roots in both Providence’s and America’s history contribute to the concern surrounding the building’s proposed reconfiguration. Should the Arcade have been reconfigured for a single tenant, the integrity of the interior space, especially the public corridor, would have been severely jeopardized.

To the joy of local residents and shop owners alike, the plans regarding the repairs to the arcade were altered. The repairs were carried forth as planned; however the space would not be available to just one retailer. Instead, much like before the space would be available to multiple stores. A total of six shops were unveiled at the opening of the Arcade in 2013.

The Arcade: What's at Stake

The Arcade: Historic Treasure Worth Saving

Atlantic Mills
Atlantic Mills
Atlantic Mills Towers (1863)
100 Manton Ave, Olneyville
PPS Most Endangered Properties List: 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017

The Atlantic Mills complex historically includes a collection of buildings on Manton Avenue with its original power source, the Woonasquatucket River, running behind it. One of Providence’s most highly visible and visually distinctive mills, it features almost-twin circular-plan stair towers topped with robust balustrades, high ribbed domes, and tall lanterns (one now missing). Otherwise utilitarian in design, a mill typically achieved architectural distinction through the ornamentation of its most prominent feature, the tower on its façade.

The mill’s eastern section, designed by Clifton A. Hall, was built in 1863 for the production of worsted cloth to supplement the original 1851 mill (long since destroyed); the nearly identical western section followed in 1882. Stretching west along Manton Avenue are small workers’ houses, originally fifty-seven in all—a remaining example of company-built housing in Providence. By the late 1880s, with 2100 workers, this was the largest textile mill in Providence. It continued to manufacture textiles until 1953.

After difficulties competing with modern textile facilities in post-World War II New England, several small industries and businesses were housed in the space. However, plagued by neglect, lack of maintenance, fire hazards and most recently flood damage, the Atlantic Mills is at risk. The towers, which serve as the distinctive “face” of the mill, are falling into a state of disrepair. According to industrial historian Patrick Malone, Ph.D. of Brown University, the complex is regarded as one of the three or four most important mills in the United States; loss of the towers would be devastating to the overall integrity of this complex. Today, the former mill complex serves as the location for the Olneyville Neighborhood Association and an indoor flea market. PPS has worked with the owners and managers of Atlantic Mills in the past, and hopes to explore new opportunities in the coming year.

Ben Dyer Block
The Benjamin Dyer Block
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.

Brownell Field Co.
Brownell Field Co.
Brownell & Field Co. Building
119 Harris Avenue
PPS Most Endangered: 2010

The Brownell Field Co. building was lost in 2011.

Listed on PPS’s 2010 Ten Most Endangered Properties List, the Brownell & Field Company building (1907-08), located at 119 Harris Avenue, represents one of the few remaining historic structures of its kind due to the demolition of other warehouses and industrial complexes in Smith Hill. This historic building was the original home of Rhode Island's famed Autocrat coffee company and is included in the city's Industrial and Commercial Buildings District (ICBD).

On September 20, 2010, the Historic District Commission (HDC) voted to approve the demolition of the Brownell & Field Co. building. Although this is clearly a case of demolition by neglect, as pointed out by members of the HDC, the hands of the Commission were tied in this matter as owner neglect is not reason enough to deny an application for demolition. This matter points out a clear flaw in the HDC guidelines and standards, which members of the Commission have vowed to bring up with the new Mayoral Administration. PPS will join the HDC members in advocating for new guidelines and standards to prevent further cases of demolition by neglect.

Cathedral of St. John
Cathedral of St. John
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.

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, unregulated demolitions, and the currently depressed real estate market following the previous boom. The George C. Arnold Building, the Providence National Bank façade, and the Teste Block exemplify this threat because all three could be legally demolished without review under the Downcity Review Committe guidelines.

George C. Arnold Building
George C. Arnold Building
George C. Arnold Building (1923)
98 Washington Street
PPS Most Endangered: 2010, 2011, 2012

The George C. Arnold building is a three story, 3500 square foot building located along Washington Street in Downtown Providence. It was constructed in 1923 to the designs of William R. Walker and Sons Architects, who designed several other major buildings around the city including the Cranston Street Armory on the West End. It is a brick-sheathed structure, which is typical of low-rise structures built in the area during the years following WWI. At 12.5 feet wide it is notably the narrowest building in the downtown area, which was the result of a street widening project in 1917.

The Arnold building became in danger during the 1990s when the building behind it was torn down and a parking lot was built. When constructed in 1923, the back wall of the Arnold building was built adjacent to the neighboring structure and was not intend to have a stand-alone fourth wall. Additionally, this fourth wall was never finished off so when the adjacent building was torn down, it still had exposed wall paper and plaster from the preexisting building which was not waterproofed so further damage was caused to this side of the building. After the back building was demolished, there were fears by local advocates that the George C. Arnold building would follow suit given its lack of utilization.

In September of 2009, a fire damaged the building, rendering it completely vacant. Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of this is that the fire occurred while the owner was in the process of finishing up extensive repair work to the exterior of the building. Few repairs were made immediately following the fire, creating a noticeable void in this active section of Washington Street. In this time the building was featured on the MEP list for three years in a row from 2010 to 2012. Fortunately in 2013, the building was acquired by the Revolving Fund who teamed up with Lori Quinn and David Stem to rehabilitate the building. It is currently in use as mixed use property with two commercial spaces on the street level and three residential units on the upper floors.


Providence National Bank Building Façade (1940s)
110 Westminster Street
PPS Most Endangered: 2009 (Providence National Register District), 2010 (Providence National Register District), 2011 (Providence National Register District)

In 2005, developers demolished the Providence National Bank Building. They saved the 1940s-era 50 Weybosset Street façade, pledging to integrate it into plans for a high rise hotel. In October 2007, the project officially stalled along with the real estate market. Not only was the prospect of new development lost, but also gone were the historic Providence National Bank and First Federal Bank buildings.

Upon the failing of the development proposal the owner of the property wanted to demolish the façade, as he no longer wished to be responsible for its maintenance. Fortunately, he was unable to do so due to the terms listed in the demolition of the building. Currently, there are no plans of development and although the façade is still standing the rest of the former property is now a parking lot.

Teste Block
Teste Block
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.

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.

Kendrick-Prentice-Tirocchi House (1867)
The Kendrick-Prentice-Tirocchi House
Kendrick-Prentice-Tirocchi House (1867)
514 Broadway, Federal Hill
PPS Most Endangered: 2010, 2012

Built in a very elaborate Italianate Style, this house is often referred to as the “Wedding Cake House” as it is Providence’s consummate “gingerbread” house. The Kendrick-Prentice-Tirocchi House was probably built and designed in 1867 by Broadway resident Perez Mason. Built for John Kendrick, a manufacturer of loom harnesses, important to 19th-century textile production, it became the home of buttonhook manufacturer and street-railway tycoon George W. Prentice in the early 1880s.

Anna Tirocchi and Laura Tirocchi Cella operated A. & L. Tirocchi, a dress making shop, at 514 Broadway from 1915 to 1947, catering to wealthy clients, many of whom were wives and daughters of the newly successful industrialists from Providence and Fall River. Their first shop was located in the Butler Exchange Building on Westminster Street from 1911 to 1915. In 1915, Laura married and Anna purchased the house on Broadway, at which time they had already developed their wealthy clientele.

The shop and its owners bridged three socio-cultural groups: their employees (from southern Italy), themselves (from near Rome), and their powerful and wealthy clients. The shop was located on the second and third floors of the house. The third floor served as the workshop where the “girls,” as they were called, fabricated, decorated, beaded, altered, and tailored the clothing to the desires of the clientele. A. & L. Tirocchi employed women from thriving Italian American families. For these young women, the sewing rooms were “safe areas” where women were sheltered from exploitation and bad behavior and were under the supervision of two female members of their own community.

When Anna Tirocchi died in 1947, Laura Tirocchi Cella wrapped all the shop’s records in tissue paper and carefully put them away. These were not disturbed until 1989 when curators from the RISD Museum were invited by Laura’s son, Dr. Louis J. Cella Jr., inheritor of the house, to make their choice of objects for the Museum. When curators entered the house, it was a time capsule from the 1920s and 1930s, as everything from the shop’s operation lay untouched for over 40 years. Eighteen cubic feet of archival materials were inventoried and acquired by RISD, and two thousand additional objects were given to the University of Rhode Island. Such complete documentation of an historical dressmaking business exists nowhere else in the United States. The Tirocchi collection is an unparalleled resource for understanding many wide-ranging historical issues, including Italian immigration, women as workers and consumers, and the transition from hand production of garments to ready-to-wear clothing.

For a number of years the house was owned by a community development group, yet they did not have the adequate funds to rehabilitate the property and it continued to deteriorate. Fortunately, in 2017 the house was sold to The Dirt Palace, a feminist arts group that has been operating for 17 years in Olneyville. The art group has funds in place and plans to move forward to reuse the building as an artist-in-residence program.


RI Hospital SWP
Rhode Island Hospital South West Pavilion
Rhode Island Hospital Southwest Pavilion (1900)
593 Eddy Street, Upper South Providence
PPS Most Endangered: 2010

This building is part of the original campus of Rhode Island Hospital and was built by architects Stone, Carpenter and Willson in 1900. The Southwest Pavilion is one of the only survivors from the original campus and its loss would be devastating to the hospital’s sense of history. The Pavilion is hemmed in by HVAC gear and modern construction, such as the Ambulatory Patient Center that was built in 1973.

Opened on May 2, 1900, the Southwest Pavilion cost $175,000 and contained a children’s ward, playroom and various wards and departments for female patients. Most significantly, it was home to the first well-equipped, spacious pathology laboratory specifically designed for the purpose.

After completion of the new Main Building for RI Hospital in 1995, the original hospital building which it abutted was finally torn down, leaving only the Southwest Pavilion standing. It has been added on to and renovated in what some consider a highly disrespectful fashion over the last several decades, and it is now in an extreme state of disrepair. The upper floors of the building are no longer in use.

Lifespan has engaged consultants to conduct a feasibility study to consider all options for the building, not excluding demolition. The results of this study have shown that the building contains necessary components to the hospitals maintenance that prevent the building from being demolished. However the building still remains underutilized and threatened by additions and repairs.

Temple Beth El
Temple Beth El
Temple Beth El (1910-1911),
688 Broad Street
PPS Most Endangered Properties List: 2010, 2014

Listed on the National Register in 1988, the Broad Street Synagogue (also known as Temple Beth El and Shaare Zedek Synagogue) was constructed in 1910-11 by the architects Banning and Thornton as the new home of the Congregation Sons of Israel and David.

The building is a two-story Classical Revival building of Roman brick and terra cotta, set on a high basement of rusticated brick with concrete underpinnings. A low two-story, flat-roof brick and concrete block addition attached to the north side of the synagogue was built in 1958.

The congregation decided to build a new temple on the East Side during the 1940s as the population around Temple Beth El was no longer the German Jewish community it had once been. In 1954, Temple Beth El was sold to the new Congregation Shaare Zedek, which formed out of five smaller Orthodox groups in the neighborhood. Interior changes were made to reflect the congregation’s Orthodox style of worship. Over the years, the Jewish population around the former Temple Beth El sharply declined. In 2004, the congregation could not get the 10 men required for minyan at Rosh Hashanah. In 2006, the temple was officially closed and “desanctified”. On June 11, 2006, Shaare Zedek merged with Congregation Beth Sholom on Camp Street. As part of the merger, Beth Sholom received ownership of Temple Beth.

In the past three years, a group of students have initiated a number of fundraising efforts to revitalize the building called the Broad Street Synagogue Revitalization Project. These committed volunteers have partnered recently the Rhode Island Historical Society to conduct oral histories with congregants who worshiped in the building, and worked with the Providence Revolving Fund to secure funding to stabilize the roof. The group is currently seeking additional funds from a number of sources, and exploring the possibility of creating a non-profit to take ownership of the building.

Terminal Warehouse
Terminal Warehouse
Terminal Warehouse
338 Allens Avenue
PPS Most Endangered: 2010

The Terminal Warehouse waslost in 2011.

Built in 1913 for the Terminal Warehouse Co. of RI, the Terminal Warehouse was a complex of two large, five-story, brick, pier-and-spandrel buildings set on the east side of Allens Avenue. These warehouses were intended as the two ends of a gargantuan warehouse at the Port of Providence, although the middle sections were never constructed. The buildings were used for the storage of freight from the State Pier and were considered burglarproof and fireproof when constructed. The property was acquired by the Shepard Company in 1948.

This property was part of the city’s Industrial & Commercial Buildings District (ICBD). Which was designed to provide protection for aging warehouse buildings. However, in 2011 due to its vacancy and lack of repairs the property was demolished.