Providence has many landmarks, but few are more famous than the “Superman Building.” Erected 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. Although the building kept changing its formal name, its nickname stuck.
I wrote about the outside of the building in one of my recent posts. The organization trying to save the art deco landmark 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 the wrong link. Therefore, I missed the narrow time window to get tickets for me and Jan. 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.
Inside the Art Deco Landmark!
The first thing I noticed while waiting in the hallway was the brass grill in front of the massive heating 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 on 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 a semicircular top, centered between two columns similar to the others on the other sides.
Up, Up, and the 25th Floor!
Our guide provided the introductory information and told us that we would first go up to the 25th floor and return here for closer viewing of the main floor. We proceeded to one of the many elevators. The fire-resistant and highly decorated elevator doors were made by the Dahlstrom Metallic Door Company. I mentioned the manufacturer in my earlier post as one of the massive exterior doors, but I was told that Gorham made the outside doors. 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 Gorham of RI indeed made the exterior doors. They are MASSIVE!
Ten was a crowd in the elevator, but it moved fast, and soon we were getting off. 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. With many interesting views, it was hard to grasp the set of subjects in the 10 minutes we stayed on the floor. We all took photographs of the views on as many sides and angles as 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 on the first floor, we were led to the vaults down below. I noticed the many steps and asked the guide if there was an elevator for the way 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 party or a wedding. More steps lead us down to the vaults.
The iron gate that greeted us looked assuring but quite meek compared to the vault door and walls. The steel doors on the vault were about 1.5 to 2 feet deep. The massive doors closed in on 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 were rows upon rows of safe deposit boxes. The pattern formed by closed and open doors on them was quite interesting. While looking around, 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!
Financing the Renovation
The owners of the building would like 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 to bring a large business left the state empty-handed. Kurt Schilling abandoned the idea, leaving RI are on the hook for close to $100 million loan guarantees. Here is another idea to explore: Why not ask the people of Rhode Island to directly invest in your endeavor. The population of RI is about 1 million. And, 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 many investors with micro-investments that would make them proud to have saved the Superman Building, indeed make them all Superman.
As we approached the building, I photographed the building and tried to include some building detail in the grand scenery shots. But I focused on the interior architectural and decorative details that add to the character of the building. I favor preservation, and I hope the building can remain as a landmark structure in Rhode Island. Who knows, the granite and limestone structure with its huge steel vault may cost more to demolish than to preserve. Time will tell.
Four separate galleries will summarize our experience. The first set presents the approach to the building, exterior details, the lobby, and decorative details. The second one is a collection from the 25th floor in different 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.