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99 Power Street

Cranston St. Armory: No Trespassers Allowed!

310 Cranston St.

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Cranston St. Armory (Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress)
My hope was to tell you about the view from one of the Cranston St. Armory’s many crenelated towers or of how hard my heart was beating as I walked along the catwalk that’s suspended from the 90ft. ceiling of the giant drill hall. Despite my efforts, I experienced neither of these things. The Armory, perhaps more commonly thought of as Providence’s medieval gothic castle, is surrounded by a modern day moat. A tall fence protects the 165,300sf building, and two layers of iron gates with giant padlocks keep visitors far away from the entrances. If you’ve wondered where all of Providence’s snow ended up this winter, it’s all in the Armory’s small parking lot — the preferred dumping ground for the city. Mountains of gross, gray snow act as the final deterrent for anyone silly enough (me!) to try to permeate the Armory’s boarders or scale its walls. So, I’m left to explore the building through google image searches, library archives, and stories you may have to share.

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The present day armory that dominates the landscape of the West End in Providence, wasn’t the first armory on the property. Benefactor Ebenezer Dexter bequeathed the property to the town of Providence as a 10 acre tract for militia training. A small armory was built on the land in the early 1840’s. This armory was replaced in 1907 by the gigantic one that still stands today. William Walker, a Civil War General, and his son designed this building and three others in Rhode Island in the late 19th century. The Cranston St. Armory is by far the grandest and most impressive.

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Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress
The National Guard continued to use the building until the late 1990’s. Before Providence’s Civic Center was completed downtown, the building was also used as a place for dog shows, track meets, circuses and even inaugural balls (Mayor Elorza did breath some life back into the building by hosting his inaugural gala in the building this year). Since then (aside from being used a bit by the Fire Marshall) the building, owned by the state, has been mostly abandoned.

This year marks the 8th time that the Cranston Street Armory has been listed on PPS’s Most Endangered Properties List. A sad reality. In 2014, the State of Rhode Island commissioned a feasibility study, which is on-going, to determine sustainable uses for the building. What new purposes can YOU think of for the Cranston Street Armory?

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FUN FACT: Did you know that there was once a shooting range in the building’s basement? From what I can tell, this space is now used as parking and storage for miscellaneous items.

Kudos to Challenge Winner: Michael Hogan ‏@mhogan401 who correctly guessed that the following mysterious image was taken (not by me!) at the Cranston St. Armory:

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Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress
Share your thoughts, memories and ideas about the Cranston St. Armory by following PPS on twitter @pvdpreservation #mep20. And see our conversation about this building here and thoughts on repurposing it here.

Ideas on how to Re-Purpose the Armory? Here’s what some people had to say

And here’s what people otherwise had to say about the Armory (lots of good historic pictures here!)

Originally posted on March 24, 2015