Superman Stories: Charles H. H. Lang

Published in People in Preservation.

Story shared by PPS Member Fraser Lang

I have rather an unusual connection to the Industrial Trust Building.

My father, Charles H. H. Lang was an employee of Industrial Trust Bank and there was (and presumably still is) a plaque in the fabulous Art Deco lobby of the bank honoring him and the dozen or so employees who served in World War II. When I was downtown I never failed to stop by and stand with my memories and my pride that his service was noted.

My father served ably and with honor but he did not win medals for bravery or accolades for his valor. But in some small but important way his service was recognized in that bank lobby.

This picture of my father was taken on his brief time with family between basic training and reporting for duty on the Battleship Texas. It was 1944 and he had been drafted, leaving a wife and five year old son on the third floor of a Pawtucket tenement owned by my grandparents. I was born while he served and he did not see me until I was eight months old.

Shortly after emigrating with his family from Scotland my father was forced to leave school in the eighth grade to help his family in the depression. He worked on a butcher wagon and as an errand boy in the Lorraine Mills. But his first real job at the age of twenty was in the building management office of Industrial Trust Bank. His employment with the institution lasted for forty three years. He retired as a bank officer in charge of data processing for the bank’s trust department. Industrial Trust provided employment, opportunity and the income to send his five children through college.

So, you see, the thought that the Industrial Trust might be torn down evokes deeply personal thoughts in me.

Beyond that, however, is the concern that the building’s demise would leave more than simply a gap in the Providence skyline. That structure is absolutely the most visible symbol of the city and has been for decades. It is much more than bricks and mortar.

Somehow we found twenty-two million dollars for a wonderful pedestrian bridge that has become a magnet for people to enjoy the view of the river and downtown. Surely we can find barely more than twice that amount to save the city’s most important icon.

Who will step forward now to find the will to marshall the creative genius and the financial investment needed to preserve and repurpose the Industrial Trust Bank Building? It is more than just an edifice. It encapsulates the history of where people spent working lives, made connections and earned a living.

We are fortunate that so much of downtown Providence remains. Other cities leveled their historic buildings to become little more than blocks of sterile boxes surrounded by parking lots. The Industrial trust Building gives all of us a “sense of place.” Once gone it can never be replaced and we will all lose much more than just a structure.

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