2011 Ten Most Endangered Properties
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.
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.
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.
Esek Hopkins House (1756)
97 Admiral Street
PPS Most Endangered: 1995, 2011
The Esek Hopkins house is the home of the first American Admiral. While still in it’s infancy the American Navy had the important task of fending off the British Navy, which at that time was the strongest in the world. Commanding the American forces was Admiral Esek Hopkins, whose home still remains intact on 97 Admiral Street.
Individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 7-acre Esek Hopkins Homestead is all that remains of the original 200-acre property. The house, facing southwest onto Admiral Street, consists of three distinct sections. The main and oldest section of the residence dates from 1756 when it was built by Hopkins himself. This structure consists of a two-story, gable house of a one-room, side hall plan. An 1802 addition included a 1½-story, gambrel roof structure, three bays wide with a modified five-room plan. A second renovation added a long, one-story gable roof ell at the rear of the main house. A shingled portion of this ell contrasts with the otherwise clapboarded house.
In 1908 the Hopkins family transferred ownership of his 1756 home and its furnishings to the City of Providence under the condition that the property would be maintained as a public park. Used for any other purpose, the property would return to the Hopkins heirs. Since that time the City's Parks Department has struggled with limited funds to maintain this highly significant house which was used as a museum until the 1970s.
Recently the house and the adjoining property have been threatened by local expansion. Neighboring businesses have shown interest in purchasing portions of the property for expansion purposes. Although such plans were rejected by the city of Providence, the property is still struggling to maintain itself. In 2008 combined efforts of Providence College and the city of Providence Parks Department a restoration project began, bringing some much needed work to the property.
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.
Narragansett Electric Lighting House “Dynamo House” (1912)
360 Eddy Street, Jewelry District
PPS Most Endangered: 2011, 2012
This complex is comprised of several brick and granite-trimmed, Georgian Revival-style structures set on the east side of Eddy Street. A tall, square, brick, three-by-three-bay block (1924) is set close to Eddy Street behind an iron fence with brick piers which borders the property and a parking area to the west. To the east stands a long, rectangular block (turbine house, built 1925; boiler house, built 1917). These blocks both feature granite trim, tall, round-arch window openings with granite keystones and sills, tripartite windows above, granite stringcourses, and brick corbelling.
Windows on the three-by-three-bay block have been filled in. Attached to the west is a rectangular, brick, flat-roof, four-story block (switch house). The building is more modest than the remainder of the complex and features rectangular window openings. A National Register nomination for the property was completed in 2005.
The first electric company in the city was the Rhode Island Electric Lighting Company (1882), which supplied the electric light for ten arc lamps in Market Square. Two years later, Narragansett Electric Lighting Company was formed by Marsden Perry and other Providence businessmen. The company’s first customer was the owner of a skating rink on Aborn Street. That same year the firm received a contract to produce electricity for 75 arc lamps in downtown Providence.
In 2006, the complex was slated to be redeveloped as the Heritage Harbor Museum, but the project stalled in the following years. In 2014 Brown University, Rhode Island College, and the University of Rhode Island borke ground on a project to adapt the property as a nursing school (RIC and URI) and administrative space (Brown).
Bomes Theatre (1921)
1017 Broad Street, South Providence
PPS Most Endangered Properties List: 2009, 2011, 2014
The Bomes Theatre is a two-story, Beaux Arts-style, flat-roof, brick structure with stone trim. It is embellished with elaborate terra cotta trim and detailed moldings on the façade. Architectural embellishments include modillion blocks, dentils, a projecting cornice, carved shells, and stylized designs. A sign reading ‘Bomes Theater’ is centered at the roof line. Plywood now obscures the original fenestration.
Following its use as a theatre, the Bomes building was occupied by Jason’s Furniture. The property is currently owned by the Providence Redevelopment Agency (PRA) and part of the Industrial and Commercial Building District (ICBD), a thematic, scattered-site local historic district. Much opportunity exists for rehabilitation efforts that would greatly enliven the community’s art, theatre, and music culture. This theatre could once again thrive as a premiere arts venue on the south side of Providence.
A community meeting hosted by the City of Providence in late 2013 openly discussed the issues and preservation options for building. PPS hopes to continue this momentum in 2014 by determining preservation priorities with the PRA, and exploring realistic options for the building’s rehabilitation.
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 has begun to stabilize the building and was ordered to remove the iconic marquee from the façade, for safety reasons, by the Building Department. Today, it remains vacant and is beginning to deteriorate.
The Columbus Theatre (1926)
PPS Most Endangered: 2011
The Columbus Theatre is an early work of Oresto di Sais, one of Providence’s first Italo-American architects, who built the theatre for its first owner Domenic Annotti. Its elaborate façade is typical of movie houses from this era. Built as a neighborhood theatre, it has a largely intact and modest interior. Seating was provided for 1,492 in the orchestra and mezzanine levels, a number comparable to theatres in NYC. Form 1929-1962, the theatre was known as the Uptown Theatre.
The theatre was the focal point for Italian stage plays, events and movies for years. Second-run programs continued until the sectioning off of the balcony into a separate “Studio Cinema” in 1965. It was the rival of the Avon Cinema on Thayer Street for “art movies,” and for years it showcased adult films. In recent years, the theatre had been transformed in to a popular spot for independent film festivals and cultural events.
Jon Berberian has owned the theatre since 1962, and returned to the original Columbus Theatre name when he purchased the building. Over the years, the Columbus gained newfound respect and appreciation as the indie-minded Picture Start Film Series and the Rhode Island International Fill Festival came to the theatre in 2000. In 2006, the theatre showed its last adult film.
In August of 2009, the Columbus Theatre was ordered closed by city inspectors due to a number of outstanding code violations. Costs of the fire upgrades would exceed $100,000, an amount the theatre can not afford. The city has ordered an upgrade is the building’s fire-suppression system, which does not meet state fire code. City inspectors have also pointed out electrical deficiencies and extension cables, paint cans and other items in the cellar and on the main stage that could be fire hazards.
After three long years and $400,000 dollars the Columbus Theatre reopened in November of 2012. The owner admits that the renovations were costly but that he refused to let the property, even jokingly saying that he had to have the safest theatre around.
Outlet Parking Garage (1963)
100 Pine Street, Downtown
PPS Most Endangered: 2011
The Outlet Parking Garage was lost in 2011.
In 1963, Providence’s Outlet Company anticipated the city of the future with the construction of a new multi-story parking garage by architects Gage & Martinson unlike any other structure in the city. A parade heralded its arrival and dignitaries ceremonially cut ribbons. Shoppers were happy for both the convenience and the symbolism of modernity as they streamed across the new “skybridge” from the garage to the department store.
The current owners planned to demolish the parking structure to make room for a surface lot. The Outlet Garage is a symbol of good urban planning that favors parking structures over surface lots which mar the face of downtowns across the country. The Outlet Garage further represents Mid-Century Modern architecture, a style that is threatened as properties less than 50 years old are often less understood and consequently more vulnerable to inappropriate treatment or demolition.
Due to the owners interests in demolition as opposed to renovation the property was demolished in late 2011 to make room for a surface lot.
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. Stronger demolition policy ordinances must be put in place to protect the historic fabric of Providence’s Downtown.
George C. Arnold Building (1923)
98 Washington Street
PPS Most Endangered: 2010 , 2011, 2012
Constructed in 1923 by a real-estate developer, the George C. Arnold building is a three-story, brick-sheathed structure, typical of low-rise structures built in the area during the years following WWI.
Only 12 ½ feet deep, it is the narrowest office building Downtown. 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 have been made since the damage from the fire was incurred, creating a noticible void in this active section of Washington Street. The owner of the property is still unsure as to what he will do with the property, although he would like to rebuild depending on the extent of the damages and talks with his insurance company the building may face demolition.
Providence National Bank Building Façade (1940s)
110 Westminster Street
PPS Most Endangered: 2009, 2010, 2011
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.
The Benjamin Dyer Block (1820)119-219 Weybosset Street
PPS Most Endangered: 1995, 1996, 1997, 2010, 2011
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.
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.
Providence Public Schools
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.
Vartan Gregorian School (1954)
455 Wickenden Street
PPS Most Endangered: 2011
Sometimes referred to as the Foxpoint Elementary School, Vartan Gregorian School is an example of Mid-Century Modern architecture that has been neglected and treated inappropriately for years. The building, designed by Cull & Robinson is a steel frame, lined with brick and glass blocks was once located in Tockwotton Park, surrounded by massive elm trees. Now, like the like the elms that once adorned the park, the building itself is in danger of disappearing.
The on going changes within the Providence School District have left the property vacant, with no foreseeable future use as a school. Despite community outcry the school was closed indefinitely in 2013.
Like all too many of Providence’s public schools, it has also suffered through years of deferred maintenance. Little is being done in the way of repairs for this building due to it no longer being in use; however its solid construction makes it an excellent candidate for repurposing. It is hoped that attention brought to this school by the Providence Preservation Society will prevent it from becoming one of the countless neglected school buildings in Providence.
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.