What’s next for the Shakespeare’s Head building?

Published in Announcements, Press & Media.

PPS to Issue a Request for Proposals in April for the Purchase of the Shakespeare’s Head Building. PPS has owned the historic building since 2015 – seeks a new steward to preserve and maintain one of Providence’s colonial treasures.

In April, Providence Preservation Society (PPS) will invite proposals to purchase the Shakespeare’s Head building (1772), located at 21 Meeting Street in the College Hill Historic District of Providence, Rhode Island. The three-story clapboard building housed Providence’s first newspaper in the colonial era precursor to The Providence Journal and served over the years as a family home, boarding house, print shop, and as one of the city’s first post offices. It remains one of Providence’s most significant examples of colonial architecture, with a beloved colonial revival garden designed by James Graham in 1939 and lovingly maintained by generations of volunteers over the years. The building is named for a sign with the Bard’s head that once hung outside of the building advertising its print-related enterprises.  

Shakespeare’s Head was owned and stewarded for close to 50 years by the Shakespeare’s Head Association, founded in 1937 by a small group of civically minded neighbors who organized to save the building when it was threatened with demolition after sitting vacant for a number of years. It was transferred to PPS and the Junior League of Rhode Island in 1985 when the Association began to decline, and in 2015, PPS became the sole owner of the building.

Cathy Lund, president of PPS’s board, says, “Over the last twenty years PPS has invested more than $300,000 in the restoration, repair and maintenance of Shakespeare’s Head and has stewarded restoration grants totaling nearly $100,000 from generous donors such as the Champlin Foundation.  We feel proud of the work we have done. It has never been easy, but PPS staff, volunteers, and members have devoted considerable time and care to the building and its garden – especially its garden, which is regarded as one of Providence’s hidden treasures.” Lund adds that with a new Executive Director and an ambitious strategic plan in place, PPS is poised to tackle work broadly across the city to support historic districts and places, engage the public with Providence’s architectural heritage, and train the next generation of historic tradespeople, noting that owning and maintaining historic buildings and house museums has never been a part of PPS’s mission.

Valerie Talmage, Executive Director of Preserve Rhode Island, says: “I applaud PPS’s decision to consider a new future for Shakespeare’s Head. Nonprofits like PPS, which operate on lean budgets, often struggle to find the resources necessary to be great caretakers of historic buildings. PPS is seeking the next owner who will consider themselves a steward of the Shakespeare’s Head building – adhering to preservation guidelines while investing in repairs and enhancements. A preservation easement donated to Preserve RI puts guardrails in place, giving PPS peace of mind that Shakespeare’s Head is protected permanently.”

Shakespeare’s Head will be sold with an easement that will permanently protect the building’s exterior and elements of its interior and historic garden, in addition to the municipal protections conferred by the College Hill Local Historic District. An RFP will be issued by PPS in late April 2024; it will include specific evaluation guidelines that relate to ensuring the building’s long-term preservation and stewardship. Anyone (or entity) who wishes to submit a proposal for purchase is welcome to do so. Prior to issuing the RFP, PPS will host two information sessions, one in person on April 8 and one on Zoom on April 11, which will include tours of the building. These meetings will provide an opportunity for community members to learn more about the building and its garden, to envision new uses and stewards for the future, and to ask questions.

More information about the building and its historic garden. Registration for both information sessions is available here. 

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