Providence has many landmark buildings, but none is better known than the “Superman Building.” Built in 1928 in Art Deco style for the Industrial Trust Company, then one of the largest banks in the state. By the time I moved to Rhode Island, it had come to be known as the INBank building as the former bank changed its name and character. Later it was bought by the Fleet group and eventually became the Bank of America, and the building kept changing its formal name but its nickname stuck.
I wrote about the outside of the building in one of my recent posts. The organization trying to save the building, Save Superman RI, has been organizing tours open to the public. I tried to get a ticket but the e-mail alert I received from them provided a wrong link and I missed the small time window to get tickets for Jan and I. Following on Jim’s experience a week earlier, we went to the building and asked if we could be put on a waiting list. Apparently some people did not show up (it was quite cold that day) and we were included in one of the groups of ten people to tour the building, altogether about forty.
The first thing I noticed while waiting in the hallway to see if we would be allowed in was the brass grill in front of the massive radiators. Clearly the builders and the architects paid a great deal of attention to minute detail, and this would become more obvious after we got a chance to see other details inside.
The tour started in the grand banking floor where 30-40 tellers served the customers for their banking needs. The long edges had a row of Ionic columns with a coin replica in the center of its capital to symbolize the nature of the establishment. The beam above the columns had silhouettes of dignitaries adding to the decoration. The dark columns provided a stark contrast to the white ceiling with large circular paintings directly above the large chandeliers. The two ends of the banking hall had large windows with semicircular top, centered between two columns similar to the others on the other sides.
Our guide provided the introductory information and told us we would be the first group to go up to the 25th floor and we would come back for more detailed viewing of the main floor, so we proceeded to one of the many elevators. The fire resistant and highly decorated elevator doors were made by Dahlstrom Metallic Door Company. I mentioned the manufacturer in my earlier post as one of the massive exterior doors, but I was told that the outside doors were made by Gorham. Upon further research, I got the word from an individual who worked at Gorham, and is responsible for initiating a Gorham Archive at Brown University that the exterior doors are indeed made by Gorham of RI. They are MASSIVE!
Ten was a crowd in the elevator, but it moved fast and we were getting off in short order. The area had a short hallway leading to a sizeable room with windows on three sides. The view was impressive, looking towards the RI State House and beyond on one side and to the I-195 bridge on the other. Many interesting views presented a hard to grasp set of subjects in the 10 minutes we were allowed to stay on the floor. We all took photographs of the views on as may sides and angles we could muster. You will notice the wall edges from the recessed structure of the building.
On the ground level again, the guide provided the architectural details of the building, the columns surrounding us, and the details of the ceiling decorations. The banking level was impressive in size, it was hard to imagine that place filled with customers depositing money or cashing checks but that’s the way it was! After our 10 minute stay there we were led to the vaults down below. I noticed the many steps and asked the guide if there was an elevator to come back up. Hearing the negative answer, I warned her that I would be coming upstairs quite slowly, and we went down. The first level below the ground level was a large hall, suitable for a large size party or a wedding. More steps lead us down to the vaults.
The iron gate that greeted us was impressive but proved to be quite meek compared to the vault door and walls. The steel doors on the vault were probably 1.5 to 2 feet deep, closing in a matched stepped pattern, and huge locking pins securing the door. It would seem impossible to break into this vault without knowing how to open the door with the proper protocol. Inside, there were rows upon rows of safe deposit boxes. The pattern of closed and open doors on them was quite interesting. In the mean time I found a box of safe deposit box keys and asked permission to pick one set and on the cue from the guide I put one set in my pocket and started to journey upstairs, slowly!
The owners of the building would like some city and state subsidies totaling about $70 million to restore and preserve the building. So far, both the state and the city are not looking at the project with keen eyes. There are reasons for it, a rushed decision to support another investor that was supposed to bring a large business to the state left the state empty-handed. Kurt Schilling abandoned the idea and the citizens of RI are on the hook for close to $100 million loan guarantees. Here is another idea for the owners to explore: Why not ask the people of Rhode Island to directly invest into your endeavor. The population of RI is about 1 million, if each person were to buy one share at $100 of this development and restoration it would amount to more money than they need. In return, they will have a large number of investors with micro investments that would make them proud to have saved the Superman Building, indeed make them all Superman.
We photographed the exterior as we approached the building and tried to include some building detail in the grand scenery shots. But, I mainly focused on the interior architectural and decorative details which add to the character of the building. I favor preservation, I hope the building can be saved as a landmark structure in Rhode Island. Who knows, the granite and limestone structure, with its huge steel vault in the basement may actually cost more to demolish than to restore and preserve. Time will tell.
The photographs are presented in four separate galleries. The first set presents the approach to the building, exterior details, the lobby and the decorative details. The second one is a collection of photographs from the 25th floor in various directions. The third gallery will take you to the main banking lobby with ornate details. And the last one is the vault down below with massive doors and walls.