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!

4 comments for “West Broadway Middle School: Help me Tell This Story!

  1. May 12, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    I know that West Side Play Space was in that building for two winters. They used two classrooms on the first floor and fixed them up nice with new paint and repaired radiator covers. I know when the heat was on, it was ON and we had to open windows in there. The building seemed very solid, though much paint was peeling. The woodwork was mostly intact and fantastic. The old-style classrooms with chalkboards all around were very cool, as well as the small storage areas in between class rooms. All in all, after a successful rehab like Nathan Bishop, it seems like this kind of building could still have lots of life in the future.

  2. Elizabeth Pestana
    May 13, 2015 at 9:08 pm

    I am a graduate of St Mary’s Visitation, I graduated in “81”. I have so many wonderful memories from there. I remember the big heavy doors in the library. I was once told that the building set behind the church and the school, we once used as a boarding school. That building in so beautiful. The friends I made there all those years ago, are still my friends, but more like sisters. Next week were meeting for dinner. The work your doing is amazing. I know this is probably useless information, but if those wall could talk what a tale it would tell. Betty

    • caroline@ppsri.org
      May 14, 2015 at 10:13 am

      Not useless at all Elizabeth! Thanks for sharing your memories with us. I had a feeling that a lot has happened behind those walls! I hope others share their memories too.

  3. Josie
    May 14, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    Some more useless information ……I graduated from St. Mary’s school ( the current West Broadway School) in 1961 and went on to St Mary’s Academy of the Visitation which was then located on the corner of Courtland St and Gesler St. They were the best years of my life. Life long friends were made there, lot of lessons were learned there and I still go to St. Mary’s church. As I said….useless information but information close to my heart.

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