MEP20: We Did It! Now What?

We did it! Together we explored 20 buildings from PPS’s Most Endangered Properties program in 10 weeks. You shared your knowledge, thoughts, memories, hopes and dreams for each of these buildings. And it was this community collaboration that made the MEP20 project successful and so much fun. Thank you!

The truth is, there aren’t just 20 buildings on the MEP list. Built over the course of twenty years, there are now 94 buildings on the list. A large number of those buildings have been saved, some have been lost, and 34 buildings continue to struggle. That’s a large number. And that brings me to the biggest lesson I learned in leading the MEP20 project: the process that goes into saving our endangered properties is fraught with challenges, and the amazing staff of PPS can’t possibly handle the job of fighting for these buildings alone. It takes a community working together to succeed in preserving the assets of our built environment. So if you aren’t already, please consider becoming a member of PPS to support the great work they do.

Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress

Cranston St. Armory (Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress)

Or maybe you can do even more! I’ve come to know many people in the past several weeks who have put preservation first. I met Kari Lang, of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association, who led a fight to save Grove St. School, and now she is leading another to save the Cranston St. Armory (JOIN IT!). Adam Bush is helping lead an effort to restore the Broad St. Synagogue and facilitate an ongoing community conversation on how this building might be re-purposed. MEP20 introduced me to Lori Quinn, who with her partner David Stem, saw an opportunity in a building only 12.5ft wide, and soon the George C. Arnold building will re-open looking better than ever. I could go on and on. Consider what YOU can do to join this group of preservation superstars.

Start by checking out this year’s MEP list. Share it with your friends and families. Are there buildings in your neighborhood you’re concerned about that you don’t see on this list? Bring them to PPS’s attention by filling out this form. Most importantly, continue the conversation! I’m now returning the control of the twitter account to the awesome staff of PPS, and they want to hear from you! Keep sharing your preservation knowledge, thoughts, concerns, hopes and dreams with PPS and the broader Providence community on twitter @pvdpreservation and facebook.

ppsexhibitOne last thing! Curious how I picked the 20 buildings for the MEP20 challenge? They were picked for me. All of the buildings we’ve explored these past 10 weeks will be featured in an upcoming Twenty Year Retrospective Photography Exhibit at the Peerless Building in Downtown Providence, opening Thursday, May 28. Hope to see you there!

Okay folks! Over and Out! I’ll see you around town. — Caroline

West Broadway Middle School: Help me Tell This Story!

29 Bainbridge Ave.


West Broadway Middle School, 2015

Today marks the 69th day, or beginning of the 10th week, of the MEP20 challenge! I was tasked with exploring 20 Endangered Properties (MEP) over the course of 10 weeks, and I’ve only got one more to go. My deadline is Wednesday. I couldn’t have gotten this far without all of your help. It’s been a community effort. You’ve tweeted and left comments, sharing your knowledge, pictures and research into each of the buildings covered. And it was your participation that has made this project such a delight. So, for this last post, I’m turning to you to tell the story of the West Broadway Middle School from beginning to end.

Just a quick note to get us started. We’ve already covered two schools so far in this challenge: Grove St. School and Fruit Hill School, both of which have been demolished. Unlike these two schools, West Broadway Middle School was saved. We almost could have lost it though. It was listed twice on the MEP list (2003 and 2011) and closed for a few years in 2007. Luckily it re-opened and is again full of happy kids. I think this is a good building to end on because it’s a success story. Were you involved in its success?

What do you know about this building? What can you find out? Did you play a role in saving it, or know someone who did? Share this post with your friends, families, and colleagues! Tweet anything and everything to @pvdpreservation and/or comment below or on facebook. I’ll update this post with your comments, thoughts, memories and pictures by Wednesday May 13 at 5pm.

#PVD History Nerds Unite!

West Broadway Middle School Front Hall, 2015

West Broadway Middle School Front Hall, 2015

5/13/15 UPDATE
As I hoped you all came up with a wealth of information about the West Broadway Middle School. Here is the story of the school as you’ve shared it with me:

  • Mike Umbricht, @W9GYR, started us off by finding that the West Broadway Middle School was first constructed in 1904 as St. Mary’s Academy of the Visitation. It was the parochial school to St. Mary’s Parish located around the corner. Mike also pointed out that the name ‘St. Mary’s” was commonly used for churches and schools in Providence. He said, “She’s everywhere. Like looking for John Smith.”
  •  Jason Bouchard, @1W57TH, discovered the names of the school’s architects by tracking down the National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the Broadway-Armory Historic District. The building was designed by Murphy, Hindle & Wright!
  •  My favorite librarian from the Providence Public Library, Kate Wells, @katefafa, found lots of good bits of information including this picture of the groundbreaking ceremony for the school on May 11, 1903:


  •  Jason Bouchard looked at this photo and determined that a couple of homes had to be demolished to make room for the cafeteria and auditorium the school has today. He proved himself correct by sharing with us a sanborn map showing the property that he found at the City Archives:

Screen Shot 2015-05-13 at 4.33.44 PM

  •  Kate Wells also found the architect’s plans for the building which contained lots of juicy bits of information, such as plans for the building to be heated and ventilation by a “direct and indirect steam gravity system” and lighted by electricity. The school was also expected to have a private system of “intercommunicating telephone and a plumbing system of the latest type”. Clearly, for its time this was a state of the art facility.

Architect's Notes


  • Kate also shared a news article from 1986 informing us that in this year the city bought the school from St. Mary’s Parish in order to turn it into a public elementary school due to over enrollment at neighboring schools. It was at this point that the school was re-named the West Broadway Elementary School.
  • We know however from the PPS MEP 2011 list, that it only remained operational as an elementary school until 2007 when it closed due to fire code violations. PPS was also concerned about the state of its deteriorating tower, which I’m told is still in need of repairs. The good news is, the school re-opened!
  • Sarah Dylla, @SarahDylla, shared with us an article celebrating the school’s re-opening as a middle school in 2014 faced again with a growing population.

I’m struck by the significance of this last point. Through the course of this MEP project we’ve already learned of two other historic schools on the MEP list, that date to the same time period, that were demolished. And I imagine that the West Broadway School wasn’t easy to save — the Providence community must have come together to fight for its preservation.

Alex Krogh-Grabbe, @alexkg413, hinted at this when he encouraged me to reach out to councilman Bryan Principe (I haven’t heard back, but when I do, I’ll be sure to update you!) and I got the sense from talking with Kari Lang of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association that numerous others were involved. Were you one of the people who banded together to save this building? If so (or if you have other thoughts to share), please comment below to share your story with us!

So there you have it folks: a success story, written by all of you, of Providence preservation. Thank you for sharing all of your thoughts, memories, research and pictures about this school and all of the other endangered properties we’ve covered over the past ten weeks!

Here is a record of what you said!

My Adventure through the Cathedral of St. John

271 N. Main St.


Cathedral of St. John (Caroline Stevens, 2015)

It’s May 10th and I imagine that the Cathedral of St. John is currently enveloped in spring greenery. But when I visited the Cathedral the trees were heavy with snow. It was my very first week embarking on the MEP20 challenge, and I’ve been waiting for just the right time to share my experience touring this building with you. Because out of all of the buildings I’ve explored, my tour of the Cathedral was probably the most memorable.

The Cathedral of St. John is the successor to the King’s Church (not surprisingly, an Anglican church), built in the same spot back in 1722. The current building, designed by John Holden Green, was built in 1810 under the name St. John’s Church. Clad in Smithfield stone, its form is Federal and decorative details Gothic. It became the Cathedral of St. John in 1929 when it was chosen to be the seat of the Episcopal diocese of Rhode Island. With its wooden tower deteriorating and sanctuary ceiling leaking, the Cathedral has been on the MEP list for seven years. Unable to keep up with the high cost of maintenance, the Diocese finally closed its doors in April 2012.

Cathedral of St. John Foyer (Caroline Stevens, 2015)

Cathedral of St. John Foyer (Caroline Stevens, 2015)

I was lucky that Chris DeCelles, who is in charge of maintenance for the Diocese, was willing to open the doors for me. But he didn’t stop there. Chris took me deep inside the Cathedral to secret places I imagine few have traveled before. Of course the tour began in the sanctuary where we admired the stain glass windows and the “saucer-domed” ceiling. I was told that the only dome in Rhode Island larger than the Cathedral’s is the dome in the State House (perhaps not such a remarkable claim considering the size of Rhode Island, but it’s still impressive).

Cathedral of St. John Sanctuary (Caroline Stevens, 2015)

Cathedral of St. John Sanctuary (Caroline Stevens, 2015)

After poking my head inside the Cathedral’s organ where I saw a complicated sea of pipes of varying widths and heights, we went up another flight of stairs. I wasn’t sure exactly where we were headed but suddenly found myself standing over the Cathedral’s domed ceiling. A complex system of beams supporting the dome below and roof above crossed every which way over our heads. I was warned not to test the weight of the 205-year-old planks forming a walkway over the dome. I didn’t.

Standing above the Cathedral of St. John's Dome (Caroline Stevens, 2015)

Standing above the Cathedral of St. John’s Dome (Caroline Stevens, 2015)

We continued on. At this point in our journey we had a series of very old and very steep ladders ahead of us. I swallowed my fear and continued on with sweaty palms and a pounding heart until we found ourselves looking at a series of gears and the backside of the steeple’s clock. Right next to the gears was a small wooden door just big enough for one hand to fit through. Chris opened the door, and in front of us, perfectly framed, was the Rhode Island State House dusted with snow. Now that was something special.

The back side of the clock, Cathedral of St. John (Caroline Stevens, 2015)

The back side of the clock, Cathedral of St. John (Caroline Stevens, 2015)

View of the State House from Cathedral of St. John (Caroline Stevens)

View of the State House from Cathedral of St. John (Caroline Stevens)



THE FUTURE: I could have written an entirely different blog post featuring my excitement around the Diocese’s future plans for the building. Under the leadership of Bishop Nicholas Knisely, the Episcopal Church of Rhode Island has been examining their past relationship to Rhode Island’s history as one corner of the “triangle trade” of slavery. The church further plans to transform the Cathedral of St. John into the nation’s first museum to the transatlantic slave trade and open a Center for Reconciliation. The Diocese is at the beginning of a long process of planning and fundraising towards this ambitious goal. For more information read this article

FURTHER READING: URI Library has some good background on the history of the Cathedral, and I enjoyed reading I [Heart] Rhody’s experience touring the Cathedral. She took some nice photos of the sanctuary while it was still in use back in 2010. Read her post here.

KUDOS to Matt Appenfeller @mwa4 for correctly guessing this week’s challenge!

SHARE: What do you know about the building? We’re interested in any bits of knowledge, thoughts, memories or photos you may have. Comment below, or on twitter @pvdpreservation #mep20.

The Phenix Building


The Phenix Buidling, 2015

My experience approaching the reception desk of the Phenix Building was familiar. At this point in my journey of exploring 20 endangered properties in 10 weeks (just 2 more buildings and 1 week to go!), I’m used to the perplexed stares of strangers as I try to explain why I’m there and what I’m looking to do. As the receptionist contemplated what to do with me, a friendly face I hadn’t noticed before said, “I can tell you about the building! Come with me!” For a second I stood there in disbelief. I wasn’t expecting my visit to the Phenix (yes, this is the correct spelling) to be so fruitful.

Loren Williams

The friendly face was Loren Williams, Operations Manager for Brown’s Division of Advancement. Brown’s development office moved into the building, far removed from the rest of the campus, in 1999. Vacant for years, entire sections of the roof had fallen through making its demolition eminent. The building was listed on PPS’s Most Endangered Properties list for five years before plans were made for its rehab, with Brown secured as a tenant. Part of the terms of Brown’s lease allowed the university to design the floor plans. It’s lucky that this building was saved considering that so much else was lost including adjacent buildings and Phenix’s prominent smokestack.

Loren brought me into his office and without pause, launched into telling me everything he could about the building, hardly giving me time to take out my notebook. Loren is my favorite kind of historian: a really excited one. Unfortunately, he didn’t know everything. But he did know much more than the very little I found written about it. I’ll share with you what he shared with me. And then I hope you can all complete this puzzle by contributing any information you know of or are able to dig up.



Okay, this is what I learned:


  • The building was built in 1848 to be part of a foundry specializing in the manufacturing of hydraulic presses, dyers, printers, bleachers’ machinery, castings, and shaftings. The foundry was one of the first to produce the earliest American textile-printing machines.
  • The Phenix Co. dates back to 1830 and was founded by George D. Holmes
  • Legend has it that the building was a canon ball factory during the Civil War. Loren can’t find any evidence to back this legend up. It’s possible that a few canon balls were cast here, but it’s unlikely that at any point the building was solely dedicated to canon ball manufacturing.
  • After its time as a foundry it became part of the Narragansett Electric Company who mainly used the building as its dumping ground.
  • The building was basically built without a foundation and was sinking into the ground when rehab began. The only thing holding it up was a giant cistern original to the building. It would have been full of water for use of the foundry, but Narragansett Electric used it to dispose of all kinds of things including mountains of light bulbs.
  • It’s a beautiful old industrial building, and unique in that it’s faced with granite ashlar. The Elm Street facade is dominated by three large rounded-arched openings, one on top of the other. I assume this was an early elevator lift?
  • Loren referred to the brick addition to the building as the “machine shop”, elsewhere I read that this was an “elevator tower” addition.
What do you know about the building? We’re interested in any bits of knowledge, photos or theories you may have. Comment below, or on twitter @pvdpreservation #mep20.


Here’s one question to start you off with: how did it get the name “Phenix”? Did Mr. Holmes mean to call it the “Phoenix” and just not know how to spell?


5/8/2015 UPDATE
The Rhode Island Historical Society @RIHistory came through with the most fruitful information about the Phenix Building in sharing the Rhode Island Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites compiled by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1978. The report had some new information including:
  • By late 19th century nearly every bleachery in the country had been fitted by the Phenix Co.
  • In 1863 Phenix expanded 2 include another machine shop, foundry, woodworking & blacksmith shop.
  • In 1978 Phenix Building was home to a LUGGAGE manufacturer! Definitely hadn’t heard that one before

Erik Gould @ClickErik clued me into the fact that photographer Ira Garber had taken a number of wonderful photographs of the Phenix Building prior to its renovation. Some of these photos, and the information the Historical Society found can be seen in our storify story for this building below. Have more to share? Let us know @pvdpreservation!


5/9/2015 UPDATE

Twitter follower Steven Lubar, @lubar, did some digging and found a few exciting clues into the Phenix Building’s past! Lubar shared both a 1905 Sanborn Map picturing the building (surrounded by worker’s housing? he asks) and some 1891 Phenix Co. letterhead. The letterhead depicts the Phenix Co. complex in its early days and tells us that the company was the “sole manufacturer of the Nagle Power Feed Pump.” Not sure what that was. The complex depicted shares little resemblance to the building today leaving us to wonder at what point the building went through some pretty major alterations.

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 10.35.38 AM

1905 Sandborn Map (found by @lubar)

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 10.36.20 AM

Phenix Co. 1891 Letterhead (found by @lubar)

You can zoom in really close to the letter head by following this link shared with us by @lubar. Apparently if you’re interested in exploring Rhode Island company letterheads you’ll want to visit this site. @lubar also found a lot of information about the Phenix building in a book titled, “The Industrial advantages of Rhode Island“. According to this book, the first American made calico printing machine was produced at the Phenix Iron Foundry and they published the “largest catalog of gears and pulleys in the country.”


Vanessa Ryan, @vlryan, may have solved the mystery behind the Phenix Co. name! She asked if perhaps the name “Phenix” is connected to the village Phenix in West Warwick, pointing out that in that town there was also Phenix Mill (1810) and Phenix Hotel (1871). She also found a “Holmes” building on the map and wondered if it might be related to George D. Holmes, founder of our Phenix Foundry. Sounds like a great theory to me! I had no idea that the village of Phenix existed! Did you?!



 Here’s a record of what you’ve shared with me so far:
Hover over the images to see the text!

A Peek Inside Columbus Theater

 270 Broadway

Caroline Stevens, 2015

Caroline Stevens, 2015

When I visited the Columbus Theater, I did so in a rush 30 minutes before a scheduled lunch date. And what a mistake that was! Now, having researched the building, I’m becoming aware of all that I didn’t see and questions that I didn’t ask. For instance, I neglected to notice the original Wurlitzer organ, and it never occurred to me to visit the projector room or green room. And what’s it like behind stage? Had I known to, I would have asked all about longtime owner Jon Berberian’s early career as an opera singer. Was he a tenor? A baritone? Would he let me record him singing? Probably not, but who knows!

Jon Berberian

Jon Berberian

Jon gave up his career in singing to manage the Columbus Theater when his father, the late Misak Berberian, fell in love and purchased the building in 1962. Jon took a break from unclogging toilets and searching for some missing speakers to show me the theater, which I photographed without a tripod and a nearly full memory card (mistake number 2!). Nevertheless, it was a treat to see what I did see of the theater and to talk, if only briefly, to Jon.

Columbus Theater was designed by architect Oreste DiSaia and first opened its doors as a vaudeville and silent film theater in 1926. Bedecked with classical motifs and moldings, its interior features hand-painted portraits of 36 composers, with an intricate mural gracing the domed ceiling. In short, it’s a gem. But like most historic theaters it fell on hard times. Facing difficult competition from giant multiplex movie theaters, eventually the Columbus Theater had to show adult films to help pay the rent. In August of 2009 it was forced to close by city inspectors due to a number of outstanding code violations including everything from the fire and sprinkler system to the width of steps and type of paint used. The building was listed on PPS’s Most Endangered Properties list in 2011.

Caroline Stevens, 2015

Caroline Stevens, 2015

Soon thereafter, $400,000 was invested in the building, and Jon entered into a partnership with musician Jeff Prystowsky and his band who (with some other friends) agreed to program concerts in the space and pay Jon rent. It worked! The Columbus Theater is once again the hot place in town booking everyone from Bonnie Prince Billy to Iron and Wine. Who would I pay the big bucks to go see perform though? Definitely, Jon Berberian. That would be something special.


Caroline Stevens, 2015

Caroline Stevens, 2015

FUN FACT: Columbus Theater was named for its 1492 total seats (between the orchestra and mezzanine levels).

RUMOR: Someone told me that the paintings on the ceiling of the Columbus Theater were painted by the same artist who painted the dome of the capital. Anyone know if this is true?

READ: The New York Times recently wrote a great profile on the Columbus Theater and took lots of beautiful behind-the-scenes shots. Read it here!

 SHARE: I want to hear from YOU! What do you know about the Columbus Theater? Comment below, or share your thoughts and memories with us on twitter @pvdpreservation #mep20.

5/9/2015 UPDATE — Jon Responded! Here’s what he had to say:

To answer your question, George DeFelice was the artist who painted the murals and dome. As a young man from Florence, Italy,  he painted the murals and dome in our R.I. Capitol Building. He was a great uncle to two of our good friends we had lunch with last week!

Also, I am a tenor, I sang several leading tenor roles in Attleboro, MA and the Columbus Theatre from 1972 thru 1979 with the Chaminade Opera Group. I also sang at Brown University and was tenor soloist with several churches. My wife, a soprano (who sang as soloist with the RI Philharmonic Orchestra and also taught singing for twenty years at Providence College) and I met doing summer stock and then sang with the New York City Opera Co. We’ll be going to New York this month for a reunion!


Paul Wackrow on South Street Power Station

360 Eddy St.

Photo courtesy of Mike Umbricht

Photo courtesy of Mike Umbricht

I need all the help I can get to successfully complete my challenge of exploring 20 endangered properties in 10 weeks; I’m getting down to the wire here! We most recently heard from Erik Gould about the Providence Fruit and Produce Warehouse, and now I’m turning the blog over to a true expert: PPS Director of Preservation Services, Paul Wackrow. He’s been watching the development of the South Street Power Station project for some time, and was kind enough to share his experience with us. Here you go!

South Street Power Station

by Paul Wackrow

Over the past year, we’ve heard quite a lot about the “South Street Landing” project. It’s been covered extensively in the press, and PPS explored the project at our Providence Symposium last fall. But it wasn’t that long ago that South Street Landing (aka South Street Power Station, Narragansett Electric Lighting Company Power Station, Dynamo House, etc…) was one of the most dire preservation problems in the state.

The station was constructed between 1912 through 1925, and remained in active service until it was decommissioned in the mid-90s. Working in tandem with the nearby Manchester Street Station (which remains open), Narragansett Electric’s operation, along the Providence River, provided power to thousands of Rhode Islanders. After the station closed, the iconic smoke stakes were removed, and the city began to explore creative new uses for the site.

Photo courtesy of Art in Ruins Site

Photo courtesy of Art in Ruins

Massive, vacant, waterfront power stations seem to be pretty common in urban areas. London once had two – with the Bankside Power Station now housing the Tate Modern art museum, and the Battersea Power Station slated for a residential conversion after a bid to reuse the building as a soccer stadium failed. Burlington, Vermont, once wanted to make their empty power station into an ice climbing center.

southstreet2I first became familiar with Providence’s South Street Station in 2006. I was an intern for RINPR covering a press conference announcing the “Dynamo House” project. The centerpiece of the development was the Heritage Harbor Museum, which according to their website, would be, “an intergenerational venue where the State’s residents will share, learn, appreciate, and be inspired by the lives of past and present generations and their impact on the state, the nation, and the world.” The developer on the project was the Baltimore-based Streuver Brothers, Eccles and Rouse, who also developed the ALCO complex in the Valley neighborhood.

When Streuver Bros pulled out of Rhode Island following the economic downturn of 2008, the project slowly unraveled. With no new developments on the horizon, the building was included on our Most Endangered Properties list in 2011 and 2012.

tweetsouthstreetAnd that’s how things stayed for a while. Every once-in-a-while we would hear rumors, but nothing concrete. In 2012, I remember getting a little too excited when I saw a tweet that Mayor Taveras and Governor Chafee were touring the site (right), but the Mayor’s office quickly let us know that nothing was in the works.

… until 2013. Unbeknownst to the public, Brown, the University of Rhode Island, and Rhode Island College were working on a plan to bring this building back to life. In June of 2013, plans were announced to reuse the power station as a joint-URI/RIC nursing school, along with administration space for Brown. Commonwealth Ventures is the developer on the project, which will also include new graduate student housing on Point Street. This collaborative, outside-the-box solution is a result of the commitment and dedication of all three schools, the City of Providence, and the State of Rhode Island.

In December of 2014, I attended my second press conference celebrating an ambitious adaptive reuse plan. While I don’t see any of these partners packing up and leaving Rhode Island anytime soon, we’ll all breathe a sigh of relief when the lights are back on in the power station.

south street



We want to hear from YOU! What do you know about the South Street Power Station, or do you prefer to call it the DYNAMO HOUSE, or something else? Comment below, and share your thoughts and anything else with us, on twitter @pvdpreservation #mep20.





Lots of fun facts and useful information shared about Dynamo House / South Street Power Station on social media. Here’s what we have so far. What can you add?! Tweet to @pvdpreservation #mep20

Guest Blogger Erik Gould on the Providence Fruit and Produce Warehouse

This time I’ve got a special treat for you. One of the great outcomes of the Endangered Buildings, Emerging Stories project has been meeting other people deeply committed to preservation in Providence. And because it takes a community working together to protect and save our endangered properties, I think it’s important to share some of your voices, thoughts and concerns. Erik Gould is a photographer, digital artist, and intrepid city explorer.  I invited him to share his memories and photos of the now demolished, Providence Fruit and Produce Warehouse. And he was awesome enough to accept my invitation.


Providence Fruit and Produce Warehouse

Written and Photographed by Erik Gould

Erik Gould

Harris Avenue was one of the very first places I would explore in Providence shortly after I arrived in 1992.  I can clearly recall the first trip out with the 4×5 camera to that part of town. A spring afternoon, Sunday, the sun clear and warm. Red brick, dusty streets and not a soul around. The area felt ignored and forgotten, as if time had slowed to a crawl. Activity ceased or barely persisting in the evidence of one or two boxcar loads on a siding and a scattering of trucks at a few loading docks. Perfect for me and my slow camera. Plenty of time and none. For if there had been little change over the previous 25 years on Harris Ave. the next 25 would be otherwise.


There were several structures of interest that together made up the fabric of the district, held together by railroad tracks and the river channel. An ivy covered signal tower from the New Haven railroad era, a single story track side warehouse with a curving wooden dock, the hulking Providence Cold Storage warehouse, and the iconic Silver Top diner. Anchoring the street was the concrete art deco of the Providence Fruit and Produce Warehouse. Long (almost 900 feet) and low it was built in 1929 when rail was king to hold produce unloaded from boxcars for distribution through the city. In 1992 there was some activity but it was hardly a bustling place. One by one these places were pulled from the fabric, torn down or in the case of the Silver Top, moved. The space itself was intruded upon by new highway off ramps.

When the warehouse was finally pulled down in 2008 I wrote this: …[the warehouse] has great value because it connects us to our past, it is real in a way that buildings like the Providence Place Mall will never be. This is our heritage, built for an honest hard working purpose, not a sham echo of something it is not. This is not a decorated box, which is almost surely what we will get in the place of the warehouse.” The rest of this rather angry blog post can be found here.


So far all we get in place of what might have been is an empty lot. Perhaps it could have become the year round farmers market that Providence so desperately needs. Perhaps not. Although tons of produce still moves by rail it is not the fruit and veg that the new farm to table trade is built on. Perhaps it could have been arts space. We’ll never know. Looking at these pictures reminds me that the only time we have is now, and if we wish to maintain a connection to the past we have to work at it, or all that will remain is a photograph. That said, you can view more photographs here.



To see more of Erik’s photographs, visit his website and follow him on twitter @ClickErik.

Some of Erik’s photographs will be featured at PPS’s upcoming Twenty Year Retrospective Photography Exhibit at the Peerless Building in Downtown Providence. The exhibit, which opens on Thursday May 28, will explore the Endangered Properties program’s successes, mourn its losses, and highlight sites that are still struggling. The exhibit will feature photographs from the List’s 20 year history (curated by AS220’s Neal Walsh) along with new work by students from AS220 Youth and New Urban Arts. An opening reception will be held on the evening of Thursday, May 28. Look for more information soon!

And we want to hear from you! What thoughts and memories do you have, or lessons learned, around the Providence Fruit and Produce Warehouse building? Share comments below or with PPS @pvdpreservation and Erik Gould @ClickErik #mep20



Saving Broad St. Synagogue: a Community Process

Caroline Stevens, 2015

Caroline Stevens, 2015

As it turns out, Broad St. Synagogue is actually pretty difficult to get into these days. After coordinating our calendars through numerous emails, when I finally arrived for my much anticipated tour, the key didn’t work. Adam Bush, my tour guide and a self defined “community navigator, mediator, steward and connector” for the synagogue, didn’t seem all that surprised. He’s been used to the ups and downs presented by the synagogue ever since he became involved in efforts to save and re-purpose the building in 2011 as part of the Broad Street Synagogue Revitalization Project.

Thankfully, I had been lucky enough to tour the building back in November of 2013. Going inside the synagogue was literally the first thing I did upon arriving at the Providence train station. I had come in order to scope out the city to see if maybe I wanted to move here. A friend picked me up from the station and asked if I might be interested in a tour. And it was standing in the sanctuary of Broad St. Synagogue that I decided I’d move to Providence. Clearly this city was full of unexpected surprises and amazing adventures! However, the synagogue I saw was in a terrible state. There were holes in the roof, and the floor was warped beneath my feet.


Photo Courtesy of Broad Street Synagogue Revitalization Project (pre-restoration)

But Adam tells me that “the building inside looks amazing right now. It’s usable and dry walled, and plastered and mold free, and you can be in there in a way you couldn’t a year ago.” It was purchased by Joe Triangelo in June 2014. He invested a great deal of money in the building’s revitalization. Despite doing a fantastic job cleaning it up, he has decided against being the long term owner and programmer of the building. The synagogue is currently for sale, leaving it once again in a vulnerable state.
Caroline Stevens, November 2013

Caroline Stevens, November 2013 (pre-restoration)

For some time now, the Broad Street Synagogue Revitalization Project has been leading a community-based process of determining potential uses for the space. Adam told me, “It was an awesome process, and we’re still in the middle of that process . . . We have continually put at the forefront the messiness of a community conversation. And in some ways that leads to answers and some ways it leads to more questions and this longer drawn out process, which is awesome and beautiful and absolutely messy.”
Listen to my interview with Adam as he tells me more background on the state of the synagogue, some of the ideas that have come out of the community conversation he has helped to lead, and his hopes and concerns for the building:
And I want to hear from you! What are your ideas for re-purposing the Broad St. Synagogue that would benefit the South Providence community in which it stands? Here’s a record of what you’ve said so far; let’s keep talking! Share your thoughts on twitter @pvdpreservation, #mep20.
For more information visit the Broad Street Revitalization Project Website. And to read up on the history of the synagogue, and listen to some great oral histories around the building visit Broad Street Synagogue Memories.
KUDOS to @SouthSidePVD for correctly guessing my whereabouts!

Looking Good, George C. Arnold!

We’ve all been watching the restoration of the George C. Arnold building with great excitement. We cheered when a new roof and then windows were installed, and we’ve been encouraged by the persistent presence of construction workers even through the coldest months of winter. But have you been inside? Because as fantastic as the building is on the outside, it’s even better on the inside. Today I got to take a peek when Lori Quinn graciously gave me short tour — emphasis on short, this building has a depth of only 12.5 ft, and a total square footage of 3,500. It’s the narrowest building in Downtown Providence.
Caroline Stevens, 2015

George C. Arnold Building (Caroline Stevens, 2015)

I’ve been told that its narrow form is thanks to a street widening project from 1917. Luckily, despite the lot’s slender dimensions, real estate developer, George C. Arnold, saw an opportunity. The three story building was completed in 1923. Thankfully, local developers Lori Quinn, her partner David Stem, and the Providence Revolving Fund, were likewise not scared off by the building’s dimensions. Instead, they all saw potential and teemed up to save this struggling building. It had been listed on PPS’s Most Endangered Properties list three years in a row after a 2009 fire, and was looking especially lonely ever since the building behind it was demolished for a surface level parking lot (this storyline is starting to feel a bit redundant folks). But, let me tell you . . . it looks fantastic today. Better yet, they expect renovations to be completed by June 1st.
Caroline Stevens. 2015

Caroline Stevens. 2015

Renovated into what you ask? Two commercial spaces will be opening up on the bottom floor, two subsidized apartments on one half of the building (left side), and one bi-level market-rate apartment (right side) will be on the second and third floors. I’ve been inside and feel ready to move in! Take a look for yourself, and I bet you’ll want to be my neighbor.
One of the Subsidized Apartments, Caroline Stevens 2015

One of the Subsidized Apartments (Caroline Stevens 2015)

View from one of the subsidized apartments, Caroline Stevens 2015

View from one of the subsidized apartments (Caroline Stevens 2015)

Market-Rate Apartment, showing wall of formerly neighboring building (Caroline Stevens, 2015)

Market-Rate Apartment, showing wall of formerly neighboring building (Caroline Stevens, 2015)

One of two Commercial Units (Caroline Stevens, 2015)

One of two Commercial Units (Caroline Stevens, 2015)

Caroline Stevens, 2015

Caroline Stevens, 2015

What do you know about this building? And who can tell me what the building was that was directly behind it? Can you find me a picture?! Finally, are you also a hopeful resident? Share your thoughts and memories in the comments below, and on twitter @pvdpreservation, #mep20.

Here’s a record of what you’ve said so far:

KUDOS to Challenge Winner, Jessica David @JDinIR for correctly guessing my whereabouts. I think this might have had something to do with the fact that she participated in PPS’s recent tour of the building. Missed out? There’s still a couple more spring programs yet to come!

Fruit Hill School: Help me Tell this Story

Photo from PPS Website

Photo from PPS Website

Of all the buildings I have been tasked to explore over these ten weeks, I know the least about the Fruit Hill School on Manton Avenue. Or at least it used to be on Manton Avenue before it was demolished in 2002. I can’t find any images or information on flickr or google (the only image I have is to the left and one at the end of this post); nothing has turned up in the citywide survey, and there isn’t even any information in Art in Ruins, which I can usually trust to have something on everything! Now, I admit that I ran out of time to visit with my favorite librarian, Kate Wells at the Providence Public Library, nor did I approach my friends at the City Archives. But I call on you now! Providence nerds, unite! Let’s work together to tell the story of the Fruit Hill School.

Share your knowledge in the comments below, and on twitter @pvdpreservation using #mep20
Have pictures?! Even better. Share those too.

Here is the little information that I do have:

  • It is sometimes referred to as the Fruit Hill School, and other times as the Manton Ave. School
  • The building was completed in c. 1900
  • It was located at 921 Manton Ave.
  • It was listed on PPS’s Most Endangered Properties list in 1998, 2001, and 2002
  • The school was not included in a national landmark district, making it that much more difficult to save
  • The building was demolished in 2002 to make room for a Hollywood Video, which later re-opened as a Family Dollar store
Here is a google street view image of what the property looks like today:
Google Street View, 129 Manton Ave.

Google Street View, 921 Manton Ave.

And here is a very short audio clip of Paul Wackrow, Director of Preservation Services at PPS, discussing what he knows about the Fruit Hill school, and some of the considerations and challenges involved in saving old school buildings. Note that the school was demolished before Paul’s time at PPS.


And this is the one historic image I was able to find through the Public Library’s flickr site from 1925. While I can’t completely confirm that this photo is of the building in question, I am guessing it was. The caption reads: Manton Avenue Station – 1925 (Manton Ave. Grammar School)
What do you know? Share with us below or on Twitter!
UPDATE 4/21/15 @10pm: WHAT YOU SAID:
Today a number of you helped to tell the story of the Fruit Hill School with tidbits of information shared in the comments below, on twitter and facebook. Here’s a recap of what you shared with me:
  • Michael Umbricht (@W9GYR) on twitter and Mary Kate Harrington on Facebook provided the most in depth resource on the building, by pointing me to the Industrial Sites and Commercial Buildings Survey. Considering that this survey was prepared by PPS (thank you Mary Kate!), I probably should have already known about it. Whoops! Good find.The survey notes that the building, a grammar school, was designed by William R. Walker & Sons and was completed in 1888 (notably earlier than c. 1900 as I previously wrote). The building was owned by the city until 1977, after which it was sold and resold a few times to various groups and individuals.
  • Susan Asselin (comment section below), Kim Smith Barnett on facebook, and Erik Gould (@clickerik) all mentioned an old stone wall remaining on the property. I was confused until I checked google street view again (below), and sure enough, there it was! When the school was torn down, the stone wall that wrapped around the building and a small set of stairs in the middle, were preserved thanks to the efforts of a local group of community activists. This is proof that even demolished buildings are worth a visit. You never know what you’ll find.
    Google Street View Pic

    Google Street View Picture


I’ll continue to post anything you have to share! So please keep the conversation going!


Here is what you said on Twitter in regards to the Fruit Hill School: