2021 Most Endangered Properties

Published in Advocacy Alerts, Announcements.

For over 25 years, PPS has worked with concerned neighbors, owners, and community activists to develop the annual MEP list. Its purpose is to generate interest in and support for the preservation of vulnerable structures and places; to educate the public about the benefits of historic preservation and the diverse architectural resources available in Providence; and to foster creative collaboration among property owners, developers, and other interested parties to bring about positive change at each property.

Buildings and artifacts on this year’s MEP list span a variety of aspects from the city’s history. Listings represent our rich residential architecture and sacred spaces; our industrial, manufacturing, and commercial heritage; and one property that connects us to an 18th century fraternal organization: Prince Hall Grand Lodge. The city of Providence might be the most surprising inclusion this year; however, it is clear that climate change and sea level rise will affect historic and cultural resources across the city in the coming decades.

2021 Most Endangered Properties List

Media Coverage:

Boston Globe – Rhode Map

Brown Daily Herald

WJAR / Turn to 10

Providence Daily Dose

EcoRI News

Inside Climate News

Industrial Trust Building, aka Superman Building (1928)

111 Westminster Street

Neighborhood: Downtown 

Years on MEP: 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021

Threat: Prolonged Vacancy

As of April 2021, an important Providence landmark, the Industrial Trust Building, will have stood vacant for eight years. Long-term vacancy is the enemy of buildings. In the case of the iconic Superman Building in the heart of our capital city, it is kryptonite.

The tallest building in the state and the keystone of downtown is well-suited for adaptive reuse and deserves the private and public investment and political will necessary to achieve a second act.

Since Superman’s inclusion in 2019 on America’s List of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, this seven-time MEP listing has received widespread attention. In Spring 2020, it was the subject of the Saving Superman Studio in the Rhode Island School of Design’s (RISD) Department of Interior Architecture. PPS supported this graduate studio where students developed seven creative and plausible reuse designs for this 1928 banking flagship and office building designed by Walker & Gillette in the Art Deco style. Faculty and students presented their results virtually to a global audience through RISD, Grow Smart RI, Venture Café Providence, and the American Institute of Architects.

Last summer, PPS worked with Building Enclosure Science, a firm of nationally recognized building experts, to author a white paper on the Industrial Trust Building. The intent was to dispel widespread misconceptions about the skyscraper’s condition and adaptive reuse potential. Bottom line: the structure is sound condition. Read our 2020 white paper on the building here.

PPS commissioned a keepsake ornament to commemorate the Superman Building’s historical and emotional significance to Rhode Islanders. The ornaments, made in Lincoln, RI, by Beacon Design, sold out quickly.

PPS is committed to the repurposing of the Industrial Trust Building and part of a broad coalition that is convinced—in the midst of the current public health, economic, and climate crises—that the Superman Building can be a solution, not a lingering problem. The skyscraper can be a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship, a locus for needed housing and public services, and an inspiration for 21st century adaptive reuse of major historic structures everywhere. It is time for the political will and a public-private partnership to save Superman.

House (c. 1880)

234 Lenox Avenue

Neighborhood: South Elmwood 

Years on MEP: 2021

Threat: Vulnerability

Many houses in Providence’s Victorian (19th century) neighborhoods are well documented through National Register nominations and the PPS Historic Marker Program. That is not the case for 234 Lenox Avenue, but what fun exploration its listing has prompted. A community member nominated the house as an MEP because it is currently for sale and in poor condition. PPS shares the optimism that when this house changes hands it can receive a proper restoration and shine once again on this pleasant, tree-lined South Elmwood avenue.

Historical maps show that the south side of Lenox Avenue, previously owned by the estate of Joseph J. Cooke, was only beginning to be developed at the turn of the 20th century. This is curious because the house at 234 Lenox is in the Italianate style—popularized in America in the mid-19th century through 1880—which begs the question, was it moved to this site? More evidence is found in the City Directory of 1921-22, when the address first appears, and the house was occupied by John McGarrahan, a building mover! Unfortunately, no building permits exist that confirm this strong suspicion.

The property is not included in the Elmwood Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, a largely honorary designation, but it is in the South Elmwood local historic district. The regulation and design review provided by the Providence Historic District Commission serve to protect the historic fabric and visual identity of our city. This means that alterations to and demolition of 19th century residences like this one—plus older and younger buildings—are considered for appropriateness within the context of the historic district. It does not mean that protected buildings are less immune to deterioration or demolition by neglect.

Our hope in listing this house is to call attention to the ongoing restoration and preservation efforts required to steward historic properties for future generations.

Grace Church Cemetery (1834, 1843, c. 1860)

10 Elmwood Avenue

Neighborhood: South Providence

Years on MEP: 2014, 2015, 2021

Threat: Vandalism

Located at the junction of Broad Street and Elmwood Avenue, Grace Church Cemetery has served as a gateway to South Providence for well over 150 years. Grace Episcopal Church originally purchased four acres of level land for use as a parish burial ground in 1834; the triangular parcel was doubled in size by 1843. The original portion of the cemetery was laid out on a diagonal with “avenues” between rows of plots named for trees. The larger addition was laid out in a simple east-west grid.

A granite receiving vault, built into a raised mound in the southern section, was built in the Greek Revival style around 1850. The handsome caretaker’s cottage, just inside the gate at the northern tip, was constructed between 1859-1860 in the Gothic Revival style promoted by A.J. Downing in The Architecture of Country Houses. It has also been referred to historically as the gate lodge or superintendent’s cottage. The Cemetery is part of the Trinity Square Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places and remains a key element of the Trinity Square streetscape.

Long a focus of community activity, the caretaker’s cottage was meticulously restored by the Elmwood Foundation (then Community Works RI, now ONE Neighborhood Builders) in 1982. It was restored again in 2008 in collaboration with the Providence Revolving Fund, and underwent extensive structural repairs after a car collided with the building’s foundation in 2010. The cottage is part of the Providence Landmark District.

The cemetery itself has experienced desecration of gravestones by vandals. Since the cemetery’s last MEP listing, the Trinity Gateway Historical Improvement Association was formed, in 2017, to act as a “friends” group for Grace Church Cemetery. Working with Groundwork Rhode Island and Trinity Together, they host biannual volunteer clean-up events. TGHIA is planning conservation training events to repair and restore many of the toppled and broken gravestones and devising a plan to reactivate the caretaker’s cottage. A website created by students at Roger Williams University will launch later this year and be full of information about the cemetery.

PPS continues to advocate for the restoration of grave markers in this historic cemetery.

Broad Street Synagogue, aka Temple Beth El (1910)

688 Broad Street 

Neighborhood: Elmwood

Years on MEP: 2010, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021

Threat: Virtually Abandoned

Construction on this community landmark began 110 years ago. Sadly, the Broad Street Synagogue continues to suffer from prolonged vacancy, and this year marks its ninth listing on the MEP list. PPS remains optimistic that this important religious building will find new use and new life.

Built by Providence’s oldest Jewish institutions, the synagogue was designed by architects Banning & Thornton and constructed in 1910-11 as the new home of the Congregation of the Sons of Israel and David. Each façade is pedimented and the street-front features two prominent Corinthian columns. The interior of the Classical Revival-style synagogue is dominated by a two-story auditorium that reflects the turn of the century Reform movement. By the mid-20th century, the congregation relocated to the East Side in response to the declining German-Jewish community once prominent in South Providence.

In 1954, the temple was sold to the new Congregation of Shaare Zedek, and a low two-story, flat-roof brick and concrete block addition was added to the north. The architect was Harry Marshak, who also designed a place of worship for the Congregation Sons of Jacob in Smith Hill—24 Douglas Avenue, a 2016 MEP. Ensuing years of Jewish population decline in Elmwood led to the official closure of the synagogue in 2006. Temple Beth-El was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

By 2012, a gathering of artists, educators, and residents formed the Broad Street Synagogue Revitalization Project.  This volunteer group initiated a number of advocacy and fundraising efforts to revitalize the building; unfortunately, they became inactive in 2014. The building sold in 2015, and the owner rehabilitated the interior and installed a temporary roof. The building sold again in 2016, and no work has taken place since. The temporary roof is failing, causing further damage.

The City of Providence has an option on the building in order to save it and is working with a local realtor to identify a buyer. If you are interested, please contact PPS for more information.

Ward Baking Co. Administration Building, aka Victory Plating (1901-08)

145 Globe Street

Neighborhood: Jewelry District

Years on MEP: 2012, 2014, 2016, 2021

Threat: Demolition

2/19/21 Update: Sadly, Ward Baking Company Building was demolished in February 2021 – a true loss for the historic landscape of Providence.

The Ward Baking Company was founded in 1849 in New York City. In 1921, the name was changed to Continental Baking Company, and it became the makers of Wonder Bread and Twinkie snack cakes. Their bakery in Providence’s Jewelry District was built between 1901 and 1908 and, surviving insertion of Interstates 95 and 195, was active through the 1970s. The bakery complex, located in a wedge bounded by Globe, Eddy and Marengo Streets, continued to be extended through 1956. After the bakery vacated, food wholesalers and manufacturers, including Victory Plating, occupied the building until vacancy—coupled with demolition threats and unrealized redevelopment plans—began to prevail.

In 2011, the former Ward Baking Co. property was in what was then the Industrial & Commercial Buildings District under the Historic District Commission. When the buildings were slated for demolition, the HDC granted demolition of the accessory buildings with the stipulation that the administration building be saved. As a result of the mass demolition and vulnerability of the surviving building, PPS first listed it as an MEP in 2012.

Unrealized plans for a nursing education center, research office campus, and even consideration for a new Paw Sox stadium, petered out with Rhode Island Hospital (Lifespan) purchasing the property in 2015 with no immediate plan for its reuse. Five years later, the owner sought a permit for emergency demolition. The city’s building official issued a notice for emergency repairs instead, an action which the Providence Building Board of Appeal upheld. This decision was recently overturned by the State Building Code Standards Committee in the hospital’s favor, and demolition of the Ward Baking Co. building is eminent.

PPS strongly disagrees with the state’s decision to effectively grant a demolition permit when the city’s building inspector found the structure not to be an imminent public safety threat in August 2020. Five years of the owner’s willful neglect should not be rewarded with a demolition permit. We are hopeful that this preventable loss will pressure the city to redouble its efforts to cite demolition by neglect and to fulfill its enforcement obligation.

Furthermore, we believe the Ward Baking Co. Administration Building is a strong candidate for a facadism intervention. This is the preservation practice of preserving the facade (exterior walls– in this case those facing Eddy and Marengo Streets including the chamfered corner) and building a new structure behind them. There is no rational reason that the existing yellow brick with glass block building cannot be integrated, in part or full, into a new redevelopment plan, upholding the HDC’s prior ruling to retain the historic building, and maintaining this character-defining corner building in a sea of vacant lots.

Arthur B. and Laura Weeks House, 29 Elbow Street (1886)

Samuel Lewis House, 137 Chestnut Street (c. 1825)

Pilgrim Manufacturing Co. Building, 155 Chestnut Street (1941)

Neighborhood: Jewelry District

Years on MEP: 2021

Threat: Demolition (155 Chestnut) and Insensitive Development

137 Chestnut Street

In September 2019, an application appeared before the Downtown Design Review Committee for a 12-story mixed use development at the corner of Chestnut and Elbow Streets in the Jewelry District. Following an appeal, the DDRC’s decision to grant a 30% height bonus was reversed and in December 2020 the applicant received unanimous conceptual and final design approval for a 10-story mixed use building at 151-155 Chestnut Street.

PPS does not oppose the design of this modular construction high-rise in the Jewelry District. In fact, it would be a welcome addition and exciting infill. We do find the proposed location, requiring demolition and shoehorning between two rare surviving residential buildings to be wholly inappropriate when the Jewelry District and the neighboring I-195 Redevelopment District are full of available—and vacant—parcels.

29 Elbow and 155 Chestnut Street

The historic neighbors to this development site are the Arthur B. and Laura Weeks House (1886) at 29 Elbow Street and the Samuel Lewis House (c. 1825), also known as the (mayor) Thomas A. Doyle House, at 137 Chestnut Street. The Weeks House, comprising a restrained and classically detailed body and mansard roof, is notable as the only original and continually used private residence in the district. The Lewis-Doyle House is a modest Federal style dwelling in brick, which is unusual but explained by Samuel Lewis being a mason. One of few surviving Federal residential buildings west of the Providence River, the former house has hosted manufacturing and commercial uses for a century now and has a two-story addition (1951) to the rear. Both the Weeks and Lewis houses have PPS historic markers and contribute to the Providence Jewelry Manufacturing Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Slated for demolition are the Pilgrim Manufacturing Co. Building (1941) at 155 Chestnut and a less prominent commercial accessory at 151 Chestnut. What is not visible is the already lost Pardon Clarke House (c.1823), a Federal period side-hall frame dwelling. It was unnecessarily demolished in 2009; today the lot is surface parking.

While the 10½ -story Doran Building (1907; 150 Chestnut Street) stands across the street, good planning practice dictates that infill at 155 Chestnut would provide a better transition in height from its direct abutters. We also believe that the miraculous survival of the Federal and Victorian residences deserves more deferential and sensitive treatment and a sympathetically designed new neighbor. Demolition of the perfectly useful commercial structure at 155 Chestnut is unnecessary and wasteful. That does not mean that the surface parking lots flanking it cannot be repopulated with appropriately scaled buildings. We strongly urge the developer to reconsider the location of this proposed development and thus maintain the desirable quaintness of Elbow Street and the integrity of the adjacent buildings.

Standard Wholesale Liquors Co. (1937)

115 Harris Avenue

Neighborhood: Smith Hill

Years on MEP: 2021

Threat: Vulnerability

Ratification of the 21st Amendment in 1933 repealed Prohibition in the United States. This ushered in the need for buildings such as this one on Harris Avenue just west of downtown and south of the Woonasquatucket River. Notably, it was built adjacent to a rail spur connecting this industrial and commercial area, sometimes referred to as the Promenade District, to the railroad at its doorstep.

The proximity and orientation to the railway are reflected in the chamfered southeast corner of this brick and concrete three-story warehouse with recessed front loading dock and entrance. The building, occupied by the liquor distributors until the late 1950s and most recently by club venues, has modest, streamlined ornamentation consisting of cast-stone bands and decorative brickwork.

Standard Wholesale Liquors Co. was built next door to another beverage distributor, the Brownell & Field Company (1907)—better known as Autocrat Coffee—at 119 Harris Avenue. As with many properties along this corridor, including 115 Harris, the Brownell & Field building is part of what is today the Providence Landmark District. The 2010 MEP list included 119 Harris Avenue, which was then dolefully approved for demolition by the Historic District Commission. This was, however, a textbook but preventable case of demolition by neglect. Today the parcel serves as a parking lot for the Providence Journal.

The Standard Wholesale Liquors Co. building is vulnerable due to its location and relative isolation. PPS is hopeful that a new owner will bring a novel use to this property and provide appropriate rehabilitation to a handsome piece of commercial architecture.

Prince Hall Grand Lodge (1893)

883 Eddy Street

Neighborhood: Lower South Providence 

Years on MEP: 2021

Threat: Fire Damage and Demolition

On Christmas Day 2020, the Prince Hall Grand Lodge at 883 Eddy Street was damaged by fire, the cause of which is under investigation. This unfortunate and devastating event has, however, provided PPS and the community at large the opportunity to learn more about this historic fraternal and charitable organization, its Providence home co-located with the Acacia Club on Eddy Street, and a long forgotten schoolhouse history.

The lodge and freemasons are named for Prince Hall, an extraordinary 18th century Bostonian who founded his eponymous branch of Black Freemasonry. Hall organized a lodge in Providence in 1797 following lodges established in Boston and Philadelphia. Most Worshipful Prince Hall has occupied the Eddy Street building since 1966. The lodge has served as a central meeting place for Providence’s Black community, hosting anniversary and birthday parties, jazz performances, and, until recently, home to the Providence branch of the NAACP. The property is also a base for the Prince Hall Masons’ charitable activities, from voter registration to toy drives.

The building itself was constructed in 1893 as a four-room public school building. There is strong evidence to suggest that it was designed by architect George Cady, who is responsible for the very similar—in form and detail—former Almy/Meader Street School in the Armory District. These two structures are rare in that few early wooden school buildings in Providence survive; in 1896, it was determined that all public schools would be built in brick. Like the Almy Street School, the former Eddy Street School is missing its belfry, or bell tower; it is reasonable to assume that both were lost in the hurricane of 1938, which took many church steeples locally.

PPS, along with the Providence Revolving Fund, supports the Prince Hall Masons in their efforts to rebuild the lodge. We are hopeful that attempts will be made to consider the restoration of the existing, fire-damaged and century-plus-old building for this important 223-year-old organization.

*Editor’s note October 2022: This description was updated to reflect the official name of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge (previously listed as Prince Hall Masonic Temple).*

Crook Point Bascule Bridge (c. 1908)

Spanning Seekonk River

Neighborhood: Fox Point

Years on MEP: 2020, 2021

Threat: Demolition

Photo by Matthew Ward (license)

The Crook Point Bascule Bridge is a rolling lift (or Scherzer, patented in 1893) railroad drawbridge which once connected the East Side of Providence to East Providence across the Seekonk River. It was built in 1908 to carry the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad line.

Word of the bridge’s demise was illuminated in a State of Rhode Island 10-year transportation plan (2019), which scheduled demolition for 2026-27. RIDOT cited safety and liability as reasons for this, and earmarked $6 million for the bridge’s removal.

Loss of the bridge would erode tangible evidence of Providence’s rail history as well as further disconnect the history of the East Side Tunnel. Listing the Crook Point Bascule Bridge on the MEP list urges us to contemplate the effect of possible demolition, but also prompts us to consider the relic’s sculptural qualities and icon status. Can this bridge be preserved as an artistic and/or recreational landmark? We believe yes.

So does Mayor Jorge O. Elorza. He spoke out in favor of the bridge’s preservation when the plan was revealed, and the city has since convened advocates and experts to explore viable re-use options. In the fall of 2020, the city launched a call for design ideas.

As a testament to the bridge’s appeal and the creativity of the Providence citizenry, the city received 78 design responses! PPS Executive Director Brent Runyon serves as a juror working to select the top five designs, which will be announced soon. The finalists will be invited back for the blind judging of round two with the winner expected to be announced in spring 2021.

PPS is delighted that the mayor and the Providence Redevelopment Agency have taken a keen interest in the Crook Point Bascule Bridge and with the enthusiastic response to the design competition. In spite of this positive activity, we have again listed the bridge due to the worrying concern that funding will not be available to actualize a winning adaptive reuse design.

Providence, RI

Neighborhood: Citywide

Years on MEP: 2021

Threat: Climate Change and Sea Level Rise

In spite of the pandemic and dire economic challenges, Providence is experiencing a building boom with construction activity continuing through lockdowns and pauses. Protection of historic buildings exists in this old American city through seven local historic districts containing approximately 2500 properties– though PPS advocates for far more designation. The city’s historic beauty continues to draw newcomers from bigger and more expensive places who appreciate the quality of life and architecture that Providence offers.

Why, then, would a member of the community nominate the city of Providence to the Most Endangered Properties list? In a sentence: we are a river city in the Ocean State, and the impacts of climate change and sea level rise will affect Providence’s built and cultural heritage in both incremental and profound ways.

First, we recognize that Providence occupies the land of the Narragansett nation and that humans lived here long before the city was founded by Roger Williams in 1636. Secondly, Providence’s industrial past and prominence are well documented. We continue to live with this legacy—and its resulting environmental contamination—from the manufacturing buildings of the Jewelry District to the mills of Olneyville. Contemporary Providence is recognized as the Creative Capital of Rhode Island and chockablock full of institutions of higher learning, hospitals, the new Innovation and Design District, and vibrant cultural activity—occupying countless historic buildings. All of this history and these landmarks are at risk.

Incremental sea level rise threatens our many architectural, archeological, and cultural resources along the Providence River and working waterfront. But we can expect increased and more severe storm activity, too. The New England Hurricane (1938) and Hurricane Carol (1954) are within living memory, and marks of their destruction are still visible throughout the built landscape—look for missing church steeples and storm surge high water mark plaques for a start. Today, we experience the incipient symptoms of climate change; among them are disease, disruption to food production, and environmental injustice.

Allens Avenue on the west side of the Providence River below downtown is a poster child for the detrimental effects of industry and pollution. The riverfront is neither visible nor accessible to the residents of Lower South Providence. A historical building like the Providence Gas Co. Purifier House (1900; aka Conley’s Wharf) is threatened by obsolescence due to the intense waterfront uses that surround it. And yet, the area around the Providence Terminal is a harbinger of green energy and habitat restoration with wind turbines and the Save the Bay Center, respectively.

In January 2021, the mayor and members of City Council announced a suite of initiatives aimed at addressing the climate crisis and institutionalizing the city’s nationally recognized Climate Justice Plan, which was released at the end of 2019. These critical actions soon will be heard by the full City Council. It is up to the people of Providence to voice support for these strategies.

“I applaud the Providence Preservation Society and the nominating community member for drawing attention to the climate crisis and its intersection with the preservation of our historic city,” said Mayor Jorge O. Elorza. “The climate crisis is not just an environmental issue. It will impact every facet of our lives and we all must play a role in preventing this human-made crisis.”

PPS advocates that the greenest building is one that is already built. Reduce, reuse, recycle can be applied to buildings as easily as soda cans. Preservation is a sustainable practice, and the preservation community can intervene. Once heritage is lost, though, it is gone forever. With the impacts of climate change, we stand to lose more than just buildings; culture and community are also threatened.

COVID-19 has presented real-time evidence that cumulative efforts worldwide and changes in activity— particularly transportation—have real, positive impacts on our planet. Each one of us must be active participants in solving the climate crisis. We must scrutinize our individual choices, demand more of our elected officials, and commit to changes that will decrease the disastrous effects of climate change.

© 2023 Providence Preservation Society. All rights reserved. Design by J. Hogue at Highchair designhaus, with development & support by Kay Belardinelli.