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.


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


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?


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 Sad Story behind the Providence National Bank Facade

35 Weybosset St.


Every time I walk by the Providence National Bank facade, I peer through its empty arched windows to the sky, and entrances out onto a parking lot. It’s a sad and curious site to see the shell of this building, supported by large steel beams, looking so lonely and out of place with only cars for company. Wanting to get to the bottom of what happened here (and falling way behind in my crazy pledge to explore 20 Endangered Properties in 10 Weeks!), I visited my favorite librarian, Kate Wells, over at the Providence Public Library for answers. Once again, she proved herself to be the ultimate superhero of Providence research, and within minutes presented me with a wealth of information on the drama behind the Providence National Bank Building and its sad demise. Here’s a bit of what Kate dug up for me:

Kate Wells, Librarian Extraorinaire!

Kate Wells, Librarian Extraorinaire!

Let’s start by getting oriented. As it turns out, the facade on Weybosset street is just one part of what was once a large building spanning between Weybosset and Westminster. The original Providence National Bank Building, was completed in 1930 and faced Westminster Street. A Colonial Revival style building, it was designed Wallace E. Howe, featured “murals of historic Providence buildings, paneling of Burma Teak, and a floor of Vermont Marble.” In 1950 the building was expanded, and a new Federal Revival style façade was added onto Weybosset St. So the façade in question, was really a backside addition to the bank building. That’s not all though. When you look at the parking lot today, more is missing. Next to the front entrance of the bank building (next to the Arcade), was another building: the First Federal Savings & Loan building. Some of you might better remember it as the “Buck-a-Book” building, with its 1960’s “modernization.” Clearly there’s one more hole: a building between the Weybosset side bank façade and the Turk’s Head building. Anyone know what this building was?

Westminster Side of Parking Lot, Photo Courtesy of Pete Hocking

Westminster Side of Parking Lot, Photo Courtesy of Pete Hocking

Anyhow, they’re all gone now (well, aside from the one façade). Here’s what happened: it all started with a plan to expand a pre-existing lot by demolishing the Buck-a-Book building, and cut into the middle of the bank building for parking. This is where I get lost. Somehow this plan was thrown out, and new plans began to develop to demolish all of the buildings in order to build one big skyscraper, which originally aimed to be the tallest in Rhode Island. The luxury condo tower designed by Cambridge Seven Architects was dubbed One Ten Westminster, and had a projected cost of $105 million. The building was expected to bring “new blood” and economic vitality to the Financial District. And so, in 2005, over the course of six weeks, the buildings were demolished. The Weybosset façade was preserved with plans to incorporate it into the new building. Within months, the solid brass doors and other architectural remnants were stolen.

Rendering of 110 Westminster Building

Rendering of 110 Westminster Building, Courtesy of BHP Development

This is where I am presented by another hole in my research (I’m sure Kate could have solved the mystery had the library not closed on me): what happened next? Well whatever the initial setbacks were (I imagine a struggle to raise $105 million), the recession completely pulled the plug on the project in 2007. And now we’re left with yet another parking lot, this one perhaps more curious than most.

The Weybosset façade of the Providence National Bank building has since been listed on PPS’s Most Endangered Properties list three times. When the development plans fell through, the owner wanted to demolish the remaining façade in order to not pay for its maintenance. The contract on the building prohibited this from happening. And while the façade is still standing now, there are no plans for the property other than to park our cars in it.


I’m curious. What do you think about “facadism,” or the act of preserving building facades with new buildings erected behind or around them. Better than nothing, or not worth it?

What would you like to see in this property? Keep it as a parking lot, or turn it into something new? How would you solve the problem of the Providence National Bank Building façade and empty lot? Comment below, and on twitter @pvdpreservation, #mep20 or on facebook.


KUDOS to Challenge Winner Erik Gould @ClickErik, for correctly guessing my whereabouts and even teaching me a thing or two in the process. Follow us on twitter @pvdpreservation to check out our conversation.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION: Here’s a record of some of our tweets around the Bank Building



The Shepard’s Building: its Rise, Fall and Rebirth

259 Westminster Street

Photographer Unknown. PPS Slide Collection

Photographer Unknown. PPS Slide Collection

Unlike some of my recent adventures, getting into the Shepard’s Building is not difficult; I walk by it and through it almost daily on my way to work and school. I did have to do some serious digging though to discover the history behind the building, piecing together what it must have been like in its heyday as a department store, and how it ever ended up on the Most Endangered Properties List. My journey of discovery took me to the Providence Public Library where I met my favorite librarian, Kate Wells, and to the uppermost floor of City Hall where I found the city archives (Why didn’t anyone tell me about this amazing place before?! Thankfully Kate finally did). Mostly I delved into the filing cabinets and slide drawers of PPS.  This is what I learned:

The Shepard’s company opened its doors in a 3-story Italianate building located at Westminster and Clemence streets in April 1880. It didn’t take long for this small business to grow into the largest retail center in New England. Over the course of 23 years, the store went from occupying 6,400sf in 1880 to 301,000sf in 1903, taking over what was once a three-block area into one giant store. And it wasn’t just a store. In fact John Shepard was adamant that Shepard’s was not a department store, rather a “collection of stores, each more complete in itself than the small separate stores” (I suppose this is an important clarification in the age of Walmart and Target). Inside the building you could find Shepard’s Tearoom, The Wellington (a 5 star restaurant), an ice making and refrigeration plant, bakery, grocery store, letter writing area, nursery, information bureau and even a small post office. WEAN, Rhode Island’s first radio station, also began inside of Shepard’s. Of course, that long list doesn’t even include all of the finery, clothing, jewelry and the like that was also found at the store. I think it’s safe to say that you could literally find anything and everything you ever wanted under Shepard’s roof.

Photographer Unknown. Photo from Providence City Archives

Photographer Unknown. Providence City Archives

Former employees can attest that it was more than just a store. Everyone who worked there was treated like family. The company held annual dances, clambakes and other outings for employees, and by 1936 gave all employees two weeks of paid vacation – a benefit that even today, most department store employees aren’t so lucky to receive. I haven’t figured out why, but the store closed in 1973. Was it a parking issue? Shopping malls full of chain stores opening? Do you know the story?

Photographer Unknown. PPS Slide Collection

Photo Courtesy of Paul Clancy

From what I can tell, the Shepard’s building stood vacant until the 1990’s when a new owner, who purchased the building at a bankruptcy auction, said that he had to demolish it to make a surface level parking lot in order to generate revenue to pay off his bank loans. This is when PPS stepped in and organized a “charette” between community leaders to brainstorm ideas on how to best adaptively re-use the building. Teams considered renovating the building into a museum of Rhode Island history, commercial space, housing, and retrofitting the entire building into a parking garage. The idea that had the most potential from the beginning, and backed by Mayor Paolino, was to relocate the University of Rhode Island’s (URI) downtown campus into the building. This concept had legs seeing that plans were already in place to demolish URI’s then current campus to make way for Providence Place Mall.

And so the Shepard’s building was saved. Well, that makes it sound simple. The building was nearly demolished, and there was actually a huge amount of controversy that surrounded URI’s move into the building, which ended up needing to be almost entirely gutted. But the preservation of the Shepard’s building, a cornerstone of downtown Providence, led the way to rejuvenating downtown more broadly and was one of PPS’s greatest success stories.


PROGRAM: So, I really glossed over the history of saving the Shepard’s building. For the real story, told from the movers and shakers who actually worked to save the building, check out PPS’s upcoming program, “Preservation through Collaboration: the Shepard’s Department Store Building” on Monday April 20th. It’s FREE!

IMG_1791FUN FACT: Not once, but twice, the Shepard’s Building was engulfed in flames. The first fire was on December 5, 1890 and the second was on March 8, 1923. In both cases, Shepard’s was back up and running within the next couple of weeks. Business had to go on!

Stories to Share?: It seems like everyone knows someone who used to shop or work at the Shepard’s Department Store. Or maybe you played a role in helping to save the building. Please share your comments below, and on twitter (Pictures too!) @pvdpreservation, #mep20.

Inside the Arcade: Meet Devon, Micro-Loft Resident

130 Westminster St.

Devon MacWilliam

Devon in her Arcade micro loft

I live in a giant 2.5 bedroom apartment in the West End with my partner, and it’s full of clutter. How many handbags can one person have? And do we really need two sets of pans? Our 15x12ft bedroom seems small with our clothes strewn across the floor. Despite its size, our apartment doesn’t feel spacious. And so I can’t help but be intrigued by the idea of micro-living which is all the rage these days. But what is it like to actually live in a micro-loft? To find out, I visited Devon, a resident in the Arcade Providence.

Devon lives in one of the Arcade’s 300sf apartments which turns out to be about the size of my living room. It’s definitely appropriately called a micro-loft. I wanted Devon to give me the inside scoop on micro-living, figuring that it can’t actually be that great. But when I asked her about the downsides of living so small, she replied, “as for the micro-loft: for my year here, I’m not eager to leave at all.” I think she was honest in her positivity . . . which is a bit contagious. She mostly sold me on the concept.

Devon has lots of storage including deep drawers under her built-in sofa, a large closet, and cabinets. She’s a smart dresser, and I didn’t get the impression that her small apartment was cramping her style in the least. What she doesn’t have is floor space, so unlike my bedroom, her clothes are actually put away — she has no other choice. I was surprised to learn that she has three beds: her big comfy looking bed, a hidden murphy bed, and her long built in sofa could easily accommodate the tallest of over-night guests. She doesn’t have an oven or a stove but seemed perfectly satisfied with her microwave. Counter space was at a premium, but I wasn’t under the impression that she did a lot of cooking. And perhaps most importantly, Devon does have a dishwasher — an appliance I am sorely in need of. I was impressed. Don’t believe me? Listen to what Devon has to say about micro living:
Devon’s favorite part about living in the Arcade is the combination of being in an historic building with modern amenities. The Arcade was completed in 1828 with 78 shops and restaurants, and is the nation’s oldest indoor shopping mall. It’s a gorgeous Greek Revival building with a skylight that runs the length of the long central corridor. The building was added to PPS’s Most Endangered Properties program in 2009 after all of the tenants had been forced to leave a year earlier to accommodate a single tenant. This would have compromised the integrity of the building, especially the public corridor that connects two of Providence’s major streets.  Only a truly unique plan could save this building, and luckily Developer Evan Granoff of 130 Westminster Street Associates had one. Working with Northeast Collaborative Architects, the building was adaptively reused to accommodate 17 micro retail spaces on the main level and 48 micro lofts (ranging from 225-450sf) on the building’s second and third floors. The Arcade made national headlines for its successful transformation into micro-lofts and businesses. Now every city wants their own Arcade.

Caroline Stevens, 2015

Photo Courtesy of Northeast Collaborative Architects

Photo Courtesy of Northeast Collaborative Architects

So, what did I decide? I am definitely now a believer in the micro-living in concept. And if I was single and didn’t expect to do a lot of cooking, I’d add my name to the Arcade’s long waiting list. But, I’m not single, and do love to cook so I think I’ll stay put. Though my visit with Devon convinced me that I need to seriously minimize my belongings. Yard sale coming soon . . . stay tuned.
Want to learn more or add your name to the waiting list? Here’s the Arcade Providence’s website.
What are your thoughts on micro-living? Have you tried it or would you consider it? Share your comments below and on twitter @pvdpreservation, #mep20

What do you think or know about the Arcade? Share on twitter! @pvdpreservation

Car Trip to the Fieldstone Trolley Shelter

585 Blackstone Blvd.


Of course I approached the Fieldstone Trolley Shelter not by trolley, but by car. Providence’s streetcar service was disbanded by the city in 1946 due the huge increase of cars. It’s a shame. I never learned to drive as I grew up in big cities with massive public transit systems. I rode the eL in Chicago and the metro in DC. But here in Providence I have to depend on not always dependable buses. It would take me an hour to get from my home to the trolley shelter and adjacent Swan Point Cemetery by bus, a distance of just over 4 miles.  So I asked my partner (who insists that I’ll be learning to drive this summer) to drive me to my destination. It’s too bad Providence’s trolleys are no longer, but at least we still have this cool trolley shelter. Not long ago, it too was threatened with destruction.


The trolley shelter is situated at the entrance of Swan Point Cemetery. It was constructed by the request of the cemetery, who also picked up the bill, when the city began building a new streetcar line along Blackstone Blvd. The cemetery turned to the Olmsted Brothers, sons of the world famous landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted, to design the shelter which was completed in 1904.

The Olmsted Brothers (as their firm was appropriately called) had recently completed the cemetery’s entrance and surrounding wall — an impressively sized organic structure composed of large rocks and boulders. The trolley shelter was designed to mimic the wall, both of which were clearly influenced by the work of Olmsted senior who was known for his naturalistic design principles. Both the wall and the trolley shelter appear to have grown out of the surrounding landscape. The shelter lies low and long emphasizing the horizontal landscape it sits upon. Large rocks, carefully pieced together around large open-air windows and entrances on either side, support a wooden hip roof with wide overhanging eaves. So yeah, as trolley shelters go, this one is pretty cool.


Though 100 years after its completion, its age started to show. The roof was falling apart, some structural stones had become dislodged, and it was plagued by vandalism. In 2008 it was listed on PPS’s Most Endangered Properties list. The cemetery and Blackstone Parks and Conservatory worked together to restore the building, which looks great today. A success story.

What would really make this a success story? The revival of Providence’s streetcars of course! We already have $13 million, now we just need $26 million more. And I guess the line as currently mapped wouldn’t exactly reach the Fieldstone Trolley Shelter . . . but it’s a start!

IMG_3907SM copy


Curious to learn more about #PVD’s streetcar plan? Check out this short report, and this slightly longer one.

KUDOS to Challenge Winner Bill Fisher @williamjfisher for correctly guessing my whereabouts . . . Hope to meet him on a trolley someday.


Check out what people are saying about the Fieldstone Trolley Shelter:

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


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

Cranston St. Armory: No Trespassers Allowed!

310 Cranston St.

Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress

Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress

My hope was to tell you about the view from one of the Cranston St. Armory’s many crenelated towers or of how hard my heart was beating as I walked along the catwalk that’s suspended from the 90ft. ceiling of the giant drill hall. Despite my efforts, I experienced neither of these things. The Armory, perhaps more commonly thought of as Providence’s medieval gothic castle, is surrounded by a modern day moat. A tall fence protects the 165,300sf building, and two layers of iron gates with giant padlocks keep visitors far away from the entrances. If you’ve wondered where all of Providence’s snow ended up this winter, it’s all in the Armory’s small parking lot — the preferred dumping ground for the city. Mountains of gross, gray snow act as the final deterrent for anyone silly enough (me!) to try to permeate the Armory’s boarders or scale its walls. So, I’m left to explore the building through google image searches, library archives, and stories you may have to share.


The present day armory that dominates the landscape of the West End in Providence, wasn’t the first armory on the property. Benefactor Ebenezer Dexter bequeathed the property to the town of Providence as a 10 acre tract for militia training. A small armory was built on the land in the early 1840’s. This armory was replaced in 1907 by the gigantic one that still stands today. William Walker, a Civil War General, and his son designed this building and three others in Rhode Island in the late 19th century. The Cranston St. Armory is by far the grandest and most impressive.

Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress

Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress

The National Guard continued to use the building until the late 1990’s. Before Providence’s Civic Center was completed downtown, the building was also used as a place for dog shows, track meets, circuses and even inaugural balls (Mayor Elorza did breath some life back into the building by hosting his inaugural gala in the building this year). Since then (aside from being used a bit by the Fire Marshall) the building, owned by the state, has been mostly abandoned.

This year marks the 8th time that the Cranston Street Armory has been listed on PPS’s Most Endangered Properties List. A sad reality. In 2014, the State of Rhode Island commissioned a feasibility study, which is on-going, to determine sustainable uses for the building. What new purposes can YOU think of for the Cranston Street Armory?


FUN FACT: Did you know that there was once a shooting range in the building’s basement? From what I can tell, this space is now used as parking and storage for miscellaneous items.

Kudos to Challenge Winner: Michael Hogan ‏@mhogan401 who correctly guessed that the following mysterious image was taken (not by me!) at the Cranston St. Armory:

Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress

Photo Courtesy of Library of Congress

Share your thoughts, memories and ideas about the Cranston St. Armory by following PPS on twitter @pvdpreservation #mep20. And see our conversation about this building here and thoughts on repurposing it here.

Ideas on how to Re-Purpose the Armory? Here’s what some people had to say:

And here’s what people otherwise had to say about the Armory (lots of good historic pictures here!):

Gorham Factory: a Visit to a Parking Lot

333 Adelaide Ave. (demolished)

3977997512_14638558a3_o copy

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.


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:

Atlantic Mills: the Family behind the Towers

120 Manton Ave.

I recently heard rumor of a museum located in the depths of Atlantic Mills and went on a quest to find it. Unable to do so, and told I needed permission to wander the halls, I found myself talking with Jocelynne, officer manager for the complex’s owner, Manton Industries. She told me there was no museum, but gave me permission to look around. All of ten feet from her office I found the following sign:

The sign on the door reads: Manton Industries: “A-Team” Employee Lounge & Lunch Room & Historic Museum.  I returned to Jocelynne who said, “Oh! Our lunch room?! I should have known that Robby calls it a museum, let me get the key for you.” Behind the door was a small, windowless room dominated by a lunch table strewn with coffee cups, paper towels and the like. The walls were decorated with family photos and treasures from Atlantic Mill’s past: newspaper clippings, old company advertisements, and glass cases full of found objects from the building’s time as one of the country’s top textile mills. Sure I had stumbled upon a truly special place, I made arrangements to return for a tour led by Atlantic Mill’s maintenance man and museum curator, Robby McCall. Here’s a very short audio clip from Robby’s museum tour:

Robby walked me through his collection of old soda bottles he had found buried along the property, and tools used to make the worsted wool the factory, first opened in 1851, was famous for.


Sully’s Chair

Next Robby took me on a tour of the building’s sprawling flea market, where I met 93 year-old Sully Colleta, long-time manager of the Big Top Flea. Sully zips around in his motorized wheelchair to converse with his adoring fans and trouble-shoot the many problems that pop up when overseeing 50,000 sf of retail space and over 200 stalls.

I met a host of interesting people, like “Chooch” co-owner of the stall “Junk from the Trunk” who sells a myriad of things left behind when people sell their cars for parts. I also met frequent shopper, “Tiny the Terrible,” who was dressed as a leprechaun for the St. Patrick’s Day holiday. He encouraged me to look him up on Wikipedia, and I encourage you to do the same.

Chooch and Danny, "Junk from the Trunk (photo: Caroline Stevens)

Chooch and Danny, “Junk from the Trunk (photo: Caroline Stevens)

I ended my tour with a juicy steak and cheese hoagie purchased at the flea market’s “Snack Shop” that opened only two weeks ago. It was delicious. I left Atlantic Mills with the understanding that the building is so much more than a pair of crumbling towers and a landmark of industrial history. Everyone who walks through the buildings’ doors – shopkeepers, customers, and Manton Industries staff – is family. I just hope that they can secure the funds necessary to restore the building, so that it can continue to be their home and cornerstone to the Olneyville community for years to come.

Caroline Stevens, 2015

(photo: Caroline Stevens, 2015)


Fun Fact: Atlantic Mills was the first mill to use a George H. Corliss steam power engine in the nation in 1852. It wasn’t the first steam engine, but it was by far the best, and its tremendous success transformed the milling industry. Corliss was confronted left and right by skeptics, and thus presented Atlantic Mills with a choice: either pay him outright for the engine, or pay him a percentage of the cost difference of using coal. The owners chose the latter and paid handsomely for the choice. The steam powered engine proved to be extremely efficient.

Fun Fact #2: Over its 102 year history (1851-1953), Atlantic Mills was the site of numerous powerful worker strikes. Having been told on Nov. 7th, 1893 that their wages would be cut by 10%, thousands of workers gathered at nearby Assembly Hall to discuss the question of striking. “The crowd was great and the floor being over-weighted, it fell in with a grinding and thundering crash . . . the falling floor broke gas pipes off short and the building was nearly blown up by escaping gas.” (Boston Daily Globe). This story came to me by way of Michael Umbricht.

Kudos to Challenge Winner Michael Umbricht @W9GYR! He correctly guessed my whereabouts, and went on to prove himself to be a superbly impressive researcher and master of Atlantic Mills history. If you haven’t yet, check out @pvdpreservation, #mep20 to read the many fascinating stories he shared on the Atlantic Mills complex. Below is one of his behind-the-scenes pictures from inside at the top of one of the towers:

Inside the Tower, Photo courtesy of Michael Umbricht

Photo courtesy of Michael Umbricht, 2013

What stories do you have about Atlantic Mills? Share your comments below and on twitter, #mep20.

Check out what other people are saying about Atlantic Mills:


Meeting the Bannisters

93 Benevolent Street

Despite stomping through three feet of snow to walk the perimeter of the home at 93 Benevolent Street, I wasn’t able to see much of anything (note to self: when snooping around vacant properties after a winter of heavy snow, do not wear high heeled boots). I peered through windows, and found the walls stripped down to their studs; a radiator sat abandoned in the middle of the living room. A mountain of snow blocked access to the front door, and the sign marking it as property of Brown University, and the former home of the Bannisters, had been suspiciously removed.

While I didn’t learn a lot from trudging around the property, I learned a great deal about the home and its two most famous renters through talking with Ray Rickman, historian and former President of the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society. Edward and Christiana Bannister were an extraordinary African American couple who lived among the elites of 19th century Providence. Edward met Christiana as a barber working in her hair salon in Boston, and he went on to becoming one of the most celebrated and prolific artists in the country. In 1880 he was one of the founding members, the only one of color, of the Providence Art Club.

Click here for a nice collection of his paintings.


But as Mr. Rickman told me, little of this would have been possible without the support of his wife Christiana. He quoted Edward saying, “Without her, I would have been nothing.” Christiana owned popular hair salons in Providence and Boston, and sold hair product. She was very successful. Mr. Rickman guessed that she was the only black woman in Rhode Island with a substantial business outside the home in the late 19th century. A decade older than Edward, her income made it possible for Edward to concentrate on his painting. She was also an abolitionist and philanthropist, opening the Home for Aged and Colored Women, and helping black soldiers coming back from the Civil War. I was amazed to learn how much Edward and Christiana were able to accomplish during one of the most racially divided times in our country.

From 1884 to 1899 they rented the home at 93 Benevolent Street. Little remains of the home they lived in, having gone through an extensive renovation in the 1930’s to house the antiques of Euchlin Reeves. It’s owned by Brown University today, and for a time was used for storing not art, but refrigerators. It was put on the PPS’s Most Endangered Properties list in 2001. I’m told that Brown intends to restore the building for use as university housing. I hope that happens soon, from my vantage point it was looking sad and forgotten.


Fun Fact: Edward Bannister came to national attention in 1876, when his four-by-five-foot painting Under the Oaks won a first-prize medal at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. The award was nearly denied to him when the committee discovered, upon his approaching the stage, that he was black. From what I understand, that painting has gone missing. But here’s a sketch:

under the oaks

Kudos to this Week’s Challenge Winner: Hassan Bagheri @archphotographr for correctly guessing the identity of the Bannisters. He took a great photo of the building when it was in better shape.

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 this home and/or the Bannisters? Share below!

UPDATE 3/30! I GOT INSIDE! Here are some pics of what I found:

Bannister009 Bannister011 Bannister019 Bannister021