I Know a Place… with Nirva LaFortune

Published in People in Preservation.

What does it mean to really know a place? We’re highlighting buildings and landscapes that define a quintessential Providence experience for residents of the Creative Capital. PPS has asked each of the declared mayoral candidates to share with us their favorite places in Providence and will be sharing them over the next several months.

Councilwoman Nirva R. LaFortune is a Providence City Council Member representing the city’s third ward and is the first Haitian American to hold elected office in the state of Rhode Island. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Councilwoman LaFortune migrated to Providence, Rhode Island at the age of three and was raised in the Southside and later Washington Park neighborhoods, where her parents still live. She is currently a candidate for Mayor of Providence.

Wanskuck Park Walk

Photo courtesy of Sarah Zurier ft. Arthur

I discovered this gem during the height of the pandemic while trying to find somewhere my kids and I can go for a short walk. Hidden in the Wanskuck Historic District of Providence or as some may say, the North End, this half-mile loop is perfect for families with small children, folks who are looking for a short relaxing walk or run but want to stay local. The trail is lined with lush trees and the path is surrounded by beautiful stone walls. My daughter and I have walked the trail. It is a true gem in our city. 

Knight Memorial Library
It was the first library I ever stepped foot in; I always dreamed of living inside the Knight Memorial Library one day. I assumed all libraries in America were as grand and beautiful. My dad and I spent a lot of time picking out books and practicing our English in that building. Sometimes I would wander around and examine the wooden panels; before I learned about Shakespeare, I saw his portrait on one of the stained glass windows, and the knights made it feel regal. What I love most about the library are the beautiful high ceilings held up by the columns and how the large windows bring in so much natural light that makes it open and welcoming.

Atlantic Mills
My aunt was a certified nursing assistant at a local nursing home, so she worked every other weekend. On the Saturdays she was off, we woke up bright and early to head to the flea market at Atlantic Mills. That building played such an essential role in our city’s manufacturing industry. It is magnificent; the spiral wooden staircase seems to go on forever and the twin towers, vertical piers, and the many windows make it enchanting. There is so much possibility for that building. In addition to the flea market, affordable housing, small/micro businesses, art studios, and housing for artists. 

Mount Pleasant and Hope High Schools
I may be biased with this one because I am a graduate of Mount Pleasant High and two of my sisters graduated from Hope High. However, they are two of my favorite school buildings in the city. Both were completed around 1936, and funded by federal public works during the New Deal Era to get Rhode Islanders back to work after the Great Depression. I never quite appreciated the buildings until I became an adult. Both give a collegiate appearance. Mount Pleasant’s Gothic, detailed facade and the two towers remind me of a castle from a children’s storybook. Hope High School has one of the largest school theaters in the nation and the wood-frame tower can be seen from various parts of the city. It breaks my heart to see the lack of investment to maintain these two buildings and our public schools-they are gems and a part of American history. I hope to one day see both restored to their full beauty.

Ladd Observatory
If you have not seen or been inside the Ladd Observatory, you may be missing out. My kids would describe it as one of the coolest buildings in the city. When they were younger, we would often walk up from our apartment on Duncan Avenue for Ladd Skies, where they would learn about the mechanics and how to use the telescope. It is a historical observatory that allows you to see how people observed the skies in the late 1880s. It’s a time capsule right on Hope Street and I get to say it’s in my ward (City Ward 3). 

Roger Williams Park and Museum of Natural History
I grew up in the Washington Park neighborhood on the Southside of Providence. My parents have lived in the same house for more than 31 years, and our street goes right into Roger Williams Park. It was our playground. We would play ultimate kickball games in the grassy area across from the museum. I rode my bike with my dad and now my children. I would also go on adventures with my siblings, friends, and grandmother along the trail.

Every evening about 40 minutes before the Museum closed, my siblings and I would go in and walk through every room. It was like having a French chateau in our backyard. Every detail of this building is captivating: the stained-glass windows at the second-floor landing, the beautiful wood mahogany staircase, the clock above the front entrance, and the tower. 

What I love most about Roger Williams Parks is that it is open and accessible to everyone. It’s a special place. 

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