This is a different kind of fall semester, but PPS is fortunate to have a virtual intern helping with our ongoing advocacy efforts. Brown University senior Isabel Scanlon is assisting us with research on the Superman Building and Most Endangered Properties nominations received from the public for our 2021 list.
Where are you from and what are you studying at Brown?
I’m from San Francisco, California, which is where my love of history and architecture began! I’m currently concentrating in Architecture and Urban Studies.
What made you reach out to PPS about an internship?
After living in Providence for the past three years, and learning about it’s rich architectural history in my classes, I knew I wanted to be able to engage more directly with that history before I graduated. I remembered the PPS building from my walks freshmen year and was familiar with PPS’ impact on Providence from class, so I thought I’d reach out to see if there was anyway I could help preserve Providence’s architectural history during my last year at Brown!
You are currently working on an inventory of businesses found in the Superman Building in its earliest years using city directories. What are some of the interesting or unexpected businesses you’ve found? How do you think this project will help us understand the building better?
The tenants in the Superman Building change pretty consistently from year to year, but one change that always interests me is when I see a tenant—usually a lawyer—move from one shared office to another. I imagine that the lawyer was poached by a neighboring law firm and wonder about the drama that may have ensued when they all crossed paths in the grand lobby. After looking through floors of lawyers and accountants I’m also excited by the odd flour distributor or ladies’ garment manufacturer.
The period of years that I’ve been cataloguing so far have been really interesting because they’re right in the aftermath of the Great Depression. The tenant list spans lawyers, architects, religious groups, land developers, and estates, just to name some of the most common categories. Cataloguing these tenant histories could help us to better understand the ebb and flow of the Superman Building’s use and popularity, while also providing an interesting sample of the Providence population through which the impact of Great Depression and other landmark events can be observed.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Happy belated 92nd birthday to the Superman Building!