Category: Lost

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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)
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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:

Yet Another Parking Lot: Police and Fire Headquarters

197 Fountain St.

Photo Courtesy of Art in Ruins

Photo Courtesy of Art in Ruins

This time I’ll start with how the story ends, because there are no surprises here. Today the former Police and Fire Headquarters is a parking lot. This parking lot can be found directly behind the Providence Public Library, another gaping hole downtown. Now, as usual, I’m counting on you to help fill me in on what happened here (remember, I’m new in town). But this is what I’ve pieced together:

Photo Courtesy of Google Maps :-)

Photo Courtesy of Google Maps 🙂

The building was completed in 1940, and placed Providence’s fire and police departments under one roof. It was one of the city’s rare examples of art deco architecture. From what I can tell, it was a handsome building. Pictures taken prior to being demolished show it boarded up and falling apart. But the bones of the building looked good. Streamlined columns punctuated the façade and stylized decorative motifs decorated the tops of windows and doors. Even in its worst days it had potential.

Photo Courtesy of Art in Ruins

Photo Courtesy of Art in Ruins

Well apparently that sentiment was not shared by everyone, and some deemed the building a safety hazard five years after being abandoned by the police and fire departments for their new home at 325 Washington St. in 2002. Three years later the building was sold and deteriorated under new ownership. Not properly secured, it was left open to vermin, drug dealers and the homeless. This neglect enabled the owners to apply for a demolition permit on the grounds that the building posed a threat to public safety.

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So the building came down, and yet another “temporary” parking lot emerged. At the time of demolition in 2007 there were plans for the lot to be redeveloped into an extension of the convention center (rendering below, provided by Greater City Providence). The building was never realized however, and the temporary parking lot is looking pretty permanent.

Rendering Courtesy of Greater City Providence

Rendering Courtesy of Greater City Providence

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MYSTERY QUESTION: I’m curious as to what happened to the Police Headquarters building that preceded this one, completed in 1902, a grand looking beaux arts building also on Fountain St (exact address, I do not know). Does anyone know what happened to this structure? Was it also torn down for parking or for something else?

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OTHER RESOURCES: As usual, Art In Ruins has a wealth of information on this building, and some great pictures too. And here are some good demolition shots from Greater City Providence. One more bonus from the Providence Public Library: check out this awesome collection of photos from the exhibit, “Protecting Providence: Three Centuries of Policing in Rhode Island’s Capital City.”

JOIN THE CONVERSATION! What do you know about the former Police and Fire Headquarters?

The Worst of Providence: the Destruction of Grove St. School

95 Grove St.

Photo Courtesy of asacco9642 on Flickr

Photo Courtesy of asacco9642 on Flickr

I admit to initially being confused by the fight to save Grove Street School, and its presence on PPS’s Most Endangered Properties list (remember, I’m a newcomer to Providence). The pictures I saw of the building showed that demolition had already started when the fight to save it began. It seemed too far gone to me. Sensing that I clearly didn’t know the whole story I went to Kari Lang, Executive Director of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association (WBNA) for answers. I was surprised to learn all that went into saving this building, and all that was lost when it was ultimately destroyed.

Grove Street School was built in 1901 as a grammar school, designed by the firm of Angell & Swift. Almost as soon as it was completed it became clear that the school, tucked away on a residential street, wasn’t large enough for the growing immigrant population of its Federal Hill neighborhood. That being said, five generations of neighborhood children were educated behind these walls, and many in the neighborhood continue to reflect fondly on their time there. The school closed in the late 1970’s and sat vacant for a long time, before it became embroiled in a drama that rocked the neighborhood for years. Here’s a short audio clip of Ms. Lang introducing the story behind the school’s demolition:

The property’s owner Michael Tarro, planned to demolish the building, included within an historic district (ICBD and National Register), to make way for a parking lot for his family’s funeral home. Without a permit to do so, in February of 2007 (with a stop work order posted on the building) demolition began. Alerted to the news, neighbors and WBNA board members descended upon the property and literally jumped in front of the bulldozer trying to stop the work that had already begun. News channels and even Mayor Cicilline showed up denouncing the illegal demolition. With no other choice, the bulldozer eventually left after a large chunk of the building had already been removed. The drama though had only just begun.

photo courtesy of Jef Nickerson

photo courtesy of Jef Nickerson

The WBNA worked with an architect, Charles Hagenah, and structural engineer, Wil Yoder, who determined that even partially demolished, the building’s structure was still sound. Proposals were made to turn it into either affordable housing or housing for the developmentally disabled. Offers were made to the owner to purchase the property by a nearby church as well. In July of 2007, a small fire of suspicious origins began.

For four years the Grove St. School continued to deteriorate. A blue tarp partially covered the building’s gaping hole. In April of 2011 a hurricane was headed towards Providence. Initially the city considered the need to tear down Grove. St. School due to safety concerns but decided to secure the building instead. The property owner took advantage of the city’s uncertainty and again resumed illegal demolition. Police halted their efforts, but this time it was too late. The building was no longer structurally sound. Now it had to come down.

As Ms. Lang explained to me, “this is an example of the worst of Providence. You want following the law to prevail, not illegal demolition to prevail.” Nothing was gained from the demolition of this school, destroyed because the owner simply didn’t want to be told what to do. Now an unmaintained, derelict lot is all that remains. Learning the story of the Grove St. School has opened up my eyes to the many holes in Providence’s “swiss cheese” landscape, and the great importance of preservation.

Grove St. Empty Lot

Grove St. Empty Lot

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Kudos to Challenge Winner: Chris Wall @CWallEastSide for correctly guessing my whereabouts at Grove St. School!

What are your memories of this school or of its sad demise? Please subscribe to this blog and comment below. Are there any buildings in your community that have you concerned? Share with us on twitter @pvdpreservation, #mep20

Gorham Factory: a Visit to a Parking Lot

333 Adelaide Ave. (demolished)

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For some reason I decided it was a good idea to walk all of the way from my apartment to the former site of Gorham Factory in 35 mph winds, unsure of what I might find, if anything at all. By order of the GPS on my cellphone, I zigzagged my way from Cranston St. to Huntington Ave., through a Walgreens parking lot and around a used car lot, towards 333 Adelaide Ave. I neglected to wear a hat, gloves or long underwear (because it’s mid March!) and was freezing.  Finally, I found myself in a giant parking lot. As predicted, there wasn’t a lot to see.

I stood in front of a mostly vacant shopping center and the Jorge Alverez high school at the very end of the drive. Mashapaug pond mostly frozen over and fenced off, sits behind the property. I didn’t stumble upon any silver spoons.

Mashapaug Pond

Mashapaug Pond (Caroline Stevens, 2015)

Though I didn’t find any silver, I was fortunate in finding another treasure in the form of Anthony Johnson. Anthony had also come to see what had come of the old Gorham factory property (he was lucky enough to do so in a car). Anthony used to work as a security guard for Gorham in the late 80’s and early 90’s when it was owned by Textron. He recalled, “There used to be a guard check right here, and they’d check you coming in and check you on the way out — make sure you didn’t steal nothing. Because there was a whole lot of silver in this building.” Here’s a short audio clip of Anthony’s memories:

(photo courtesy of Erik Gould)

He was right about there being a lot of silver in the building. Gorham silver is world famous (the White House even has a few sets of it), and it was produced right here in Providence. Just do a search on ebay for Gorham silver, and you’ll come up with 29,460 results. Personally, I fancy this “chocolate spoon“. Yummy. But Gorham didn’t just manufacture silver: they expanded to working in gold, brass and bronze. During WWII they temporarily ceased working in bronze and silver and instead manufactured shell cases, torpedo components and tank bearings.

Gorham Silver

Gorham Silver

The main building (where the school is now) was completed in 1890, designed by mill architect Frank Sheldon. The site eventually expanded to cover 37 acres comprised of 35 buildings. Anthony had a lot of ground to cover as a security man.

In 1967 Gorham sold to Providence-based Textron. Soon thereafter, people say that the quality of Gorham’s products began to decline until Gorham finally closed its doors in 1986. The property eventually foreclosed, and the city bought it. Proposals were solicited and none of them incorporated plans to reuse any of the Gorham buildings which were subsequently all torn down. Alvarez High School opened on the site in 2008.

Unfortunately, because of surface water run-off from the Gorham site and the company’s industrial discharges, Mashapaug Pond is highly polluted (note that the water’s pollution is not the fault of Gorham alone). The fish are poisoned and the water is unsafe to drink or swim in. The need to communicate the message of the pond’s pollution to area residents inspired the creation of the Urban Pond Procession, who have created engaging signage, public programs and even an annual procession or parade of sorts that celebrates and raises public awareness about the pond. A happy thing to come out of a sad story.

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Kudos to Challenge Winner: Molly Kerker @MollyKerker for guessing my mysterious whereabouts!

Follow my journey through 20 of PPS’s Most Endangered Properties in 10 Weeks @pvdpreservation, #mep20 and subscribe to this blog.

Do you know anything more about Gorham Manufacturing? Stories or thoughts to share?  Share below!

Check out what people are saying about Gorham Manufacturing on #MEP20: