The Sad Story Behind the Providence National Bank Facade
Every time I walk by the Providence National Bank facade, I peer through its empty arched windows to the sky, and entrances out onto a parking lot. It’s a sad and curious site to see the shell of this building, supported by large steel beams, looking so lonely and out of place with only cars for company. Wanting to get to the bottom of what happened here (and falling way behind in my crazy pledge to explore 20 Endangered Properties in 10 Weeks!), I visited my favorite librarian, Kate Wells, over at the Providence Public Library for answers. Once again, she proved herself to be the ultimate superhero of Providence research, and within minutes presented me with a wealth of information on the drama behind the Providence National Bank Building and its sad demise. Here’s a bit of what Kate dug up for me:
Let’s start by getting oriented. As it turns out, the facade on Weybosset street is just one part of what was once a large building spanning between Weybosset and Westminster. The original Providence National Bank Building, was completed in 1930 and faced Westminster Street. A Colonial Revival style building, it was designed Wallace E. Howe, featured “murals of historic Providence buildings, paneling of Burma Teak, and a floor of Vermont Marble.” In 1950 the building was expanded, and a new Federal Revival style façade was added onto Weybosset St. So the façade in question, was really a backside addition to the bank building. That’s not all though. When you look at the parking lot today, more is missing. Next to the front entrance of the bank building (next to the Arcade), was another building: the First Federal Savings & Loan building. Some of you might better remember it as the “Buck-a-Book” building, with its 1960’s “modernization.” Clearly there’s one more hole: a building between the Weybosset side bank façade and the Turk’s Head building. Anyone know what this building was?
Anyhow, they’re all gone now (well, aside from the one façade). Here’s what happened: it all started with a plan to expand a pre-existing lot by demolishing the Buck-a-Book building, and cut into the middle of the bank building for parking. This is where I get lost. Somehow this plan was thrown out, and new plans began to develop to demolish all of the buildings in order to build one big skyscraper, which originally aimed to be the tallest in Rhode Island. The luxury condo tower designed by Cambridge Seven Architects was dubbed One Ten Westminster, and had a projected cost of $105 million. The building was expected to bring “new blood” and economic vitality to the Financial District. And so, in 2005, over the course of six weeks, the buildings were demolished. The Weybosset façade was preserved with plans to incorporate it into the new building. Within months, the solid brass doors and other architectural remnants were stolen.
This is where I am presented by another hole in my research (I’m sure Kate could have solved the mystery had the library not closed on me): what happened next? Well whatever the initial setbacks were (I imagine a struggle to raise $105 million), the recession completely pulled the plug on the project in 2007. And now we’re left with yet another parking lot, this one perhaps more curious than most.
The Weybosset façade of the Providence National Bank building has since been listed on PPS’s Most Endangered Properties list three times. When the development plans fell through, the owner wanted to demolish the remaining façade in order to not pay for its maintenance. The contract on the building prohibited this from happening. And while the façade is still standing now, there are no plans for the property other than to park our cars in it.
YOUR THOUGHTS: I’m curious. What do you think about “facadism,” or the act of preserving building facades with new buildings erected behind or around them. Better than nothing, or not worth it?
What would you like to see in this property? Keep it as a parking lot, or turn it into something new? How would you solve the problem of the Providence National Bank Building façade and empty lot? Comment on twitter @pvdpreservation, #mep20 or on facebook.
KUDOS to Challenge Winner Erik Gould @ClickErik, for correctly guessing my whereabouts and even teaching me a thing or two in the process. Follow us on twitter @pvdpreservation to check out our conversation.