Duck & Bunny
Loss of 312 Wickenden Street
(4/06/2021) The owners of the Duck & Bunny snuggery at 312 Wickenden Street were issued a demolition permit by the City of Providence on March 15 and the building was demolished on April 3, 2021. It was a beloved business on Wickenden, one of Providence’s most eclectic commercial streets. The building, the Almira P. Allen House, was in the Federal style and, according to architectural historian Mack Woodward, it dated from 1810 to 1830.
Owner Dan Becker operated his business in a building that held its place on the street for 200 years. PPS first heard about his plans for demolition and reconstruct ion in January 2020. According to a Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission statement in 2020, the building contributed “to the historical and architectural significance of the College Hill Historic District” and was “a highly intact Federal style house” that reflected the “changing demographics of Fox Point” due to its long ownership by the Allen then the Figueiredo families. RIHPHC further stated that the house “warrants future preservation and reuse,” and they strongly recommended “that this irreplaceable resource be protected and preserved and that demolition be reconsidered.”
In a city that supposedly values its history and historical architecture, many question why beloved places like the Duck & Bunny are allowed to be razed without so much as a notice to the neighborhood. And many worry that what replaces them will unalterably change the way the street currently looks and feels, thanks in part to its varied, small-scale architecture.
History and charm of Wickenden Street
Much of Wickenden Street is within the College Hill Historic District on the National Register. It has been recognized for its character and significance, with development dating from the Colonial period to the present day, and includes the stories of waves of immigrants who lived, shopped, and made their livelihoods in Fox Point. Unlike areas to the north within the local historic district, on Wickenden there is no commission review of demolition applications for appropriateness, and Providence does not have a standard demolition delay policy, as found in other cities. With lack of protection, the charm of Wickenden Street is slowly disappearing.
Throughout the city, but most acutely where real estate values are high and preservation protection nonexistent, we are seeing an accelerating erosion of architectural character, loss of historic buildings, disposition of old-growth materials and change of scale. Within Fox Point, this is especially the case for properties outside the College Hill local historic district. A dense, small-scale urban corridor like Wickenden Street can be adversely affected by demolition and new construction. It is zoned C-2, which the City intends “for more intensive commercial uses and key commercial nodes, including larger retail establishments.” The maximum height for development is 50 feet.
Even before the pandemic, it might have been difficult for a small business owner to rehabilitate a 200-year-old house that had a failing foundation and had been modified (poorly) several times. What investment is reasonable to expect of a small business owner? How do the City’s policies and its residents support places that matter?
Property owners in our historic city are urged to seek advice from old building experts, whether required to or not, in order to determine the appropriateness of exterior modifications. The Providence Revolving Fund and the Providence Preservation Society provide free assistance that can support preservation of architectural resources and high quality design.
PPS’ Planning & Architectural Review Committee offers design review and advice to developers. We invite the owner of 312 Wickenden to consult with us on the design of the new building. Details such as materials and new window profiles can make or break the look of a building, and we have experts who can make appropriate recommendations.
The Providence Revolving Fund can help owners address issues that arise with old buildings, like how to decide whether rehab or new construction makes the most sense. They also help owners of commercial properties secure federal historic rehabilitation tax credits, which can be 20% of the rehabilitation cost.
Importantly, we believe the City of Providence should enact a demolition delay ordinance, as found in other cities, that establishes a hold of up to 90 days in the issuance of a demolition permit for certain historic buildings. This would allow the Department of Planning and Development to explore options to preserve the building, including but not limited to landmark designation, and provide neighbors advance notice of a demolition permit. A demolition delay ordinance will help to ensure that no important historic resource can be demolished without consideration as to whether it can and should be preserved.