Providence has interesting architecture and to a large extent, it has maintained its character. It is a small city, but not tiny; it has changed some but still looks like the Providence I first saw in 1969. Last weekend Jim picked me up and we went for a short stroll in the city to enjoy its many old buildings, and streets.
There used to be more stores in downtown Providence, but many have moved to the newer shopping malls and some outright closed their shops. That is one of the main changes hard to miss. Some of them were department stores and their buildings have been repurposed and converted for other uses. From where we parked at the corner of Fulton Street I could see how carefully the street lights were strung overhead, all on a straight line. We then strolled towards the Providence City Hall and a blue colored window with dark reflections on it grabbed my attention. On that dark expanse, the tiny sticker with the face of a baseball player was hard to avoid. This may be what Barthes called the “punctum.” Continuing on Dorrance Street, we came to the corner of Westminster Street. There the Union Trust Building was shining with its brick façade, and highly decorated marble trimmed windows. We turned left on Weybosset Street and proceeded towards the corner of Weybosset and Westminster streets where one of my favorite buildings in the city, the Turk’s Head Building stood.
The primary texture of the buildings in Providence is brick, it is visible everywhere. A carefully painted sign on a large brick wall was hard to miss, “Handmade Gifts!” On the other side, the old-fashioned door of the Studley Building made me wonder if there used to be a doorman in a fancy uniform in the old days. A little further down we were in front of the Westminster Arcade, also called the Providence Arcade, or simply the Arcade.
In an earlier post, I talked about the old Peerless building that has become apartments with a large atrium that serves as a gallery space. Another similar building is the Arcade from 1828. Connecting Westminster and Weybosset Streets, the Arcade is the nation’s oldest standing indoor shopping facility and a national historic landmark in Greek Revival architectural style. It has been converted to small living spaces, micro-lofts, in the last few years but its ground floor still houses shops, coffee houses, and the like. All that with its character remaining intact. It was good to walk through the short strip of shops.
Continuing on Weybosset Street, we went by a nice façade of an old building boarded with hand decorated panels. Come to find out, it was just a wall to hide the parking lot behind it. Apparently, the building behind it either collapsed or was taken down but I believe leaving it in place was a good idea. The back side of the façade was strongly supported with heavy steel beams.
From the parking lot behind the façade, I could see the famous “Superman Building.” I first knew that as the INBank building, but many refer to it with the superhero-linked name based on a rumor and belief that it was the model for the Daily Planet building in Superman comic book. More on that later, let’s keep walking by Café La France on the street level of the Turk’s Head Building toward the front.
The Financial Center
The Turk’s Head Building with its V-shaped structure neatly fits the intersection of Westminster and Weybosset Streets. Its architecture is classically inspired and the massive stone head of an Ottoman warrior on its rounded front has become part of the fabric of Rhode Island folklore. According to a Brown University page, the Turk’s head figure is a replica of what used to identify the Jacob Whitman house. It comes from the days when signs rather than numbers identified to locations, so “At the Sign of the Turk’s Head” was the address of the Whitman house.
The small plaza in front of the Turk’s Head Building is the financial center of the city with several other tall buildings circling it. On that weekend day, several young men and women were enjoying the relatively warm weather. While a couple of skateboarders practiced some jumps, others were sitting on the benches and on the short wall. One of the young women approached me and asked if she could have a picture taken with me, quite flattering! She said she liked my outfit of a green fleece jacket and a black baseball hat. One of her friends took a picture of us with her phone. And I learned that she was studying at RISD and was from Utah, Salt Lake City, living in Sugar House! Maybe Elif and Mina’s neighbors!
The Superman Building
Turning the corner around the Turk’s Head Building we proceeded towards the Industrial Trust Building, aka the Superman Building. There have been efforts to save the building from extinction. It is currently the tallest building in the city although several new buildings may appear taller. The stepped architecture gives the building its unique charm and character. There was some kind of construction judging by the scaffolding on the outside on the Westminster Street side. The doors were heavy metal, decorated with eagle relief panels. “The metal doors and trim were manufactured by Dalhstrom Metallic Door Company, of Jamestown, New York.” (Source) (This reference applies to the interior elevator and other similar doors and trims and the massive exterior doors are made by Gorham of RI. I was confused about the references and went to a reliable source, the person who worked at Gorham and is responsible for initiating a Gorham Archive at Brown University.) According to the same page, there was a large globe with a circle of stone eagles at the top of the building as decoration. After one of the eagles landed on the street, the building lost its decorations around 1950.
Completing the circle by Dorrance St., the Kennedy Plaza, and the Providence City Hall, we returned to the car.
It is a pleasant city to walk around indeed!