Share This

Powerful round-arch openings, diminishing in size at each floor level, dominate the north end of this random-course-ashlar granite building with trap-door-monitor roof, an exceptionally rare and marvelously robust design. As the only remnant of a complex located mostly on the site of Narragansett Electric’s South Street Station, it was abandoned and derelict for much of the late twentieth century. Rehabilitated in the late 1990s it once housed the development offices for Brown University.

– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture

In 1830, George D. Holmes founded a company, later incorporated as the Phenix Iron Foundry, specializing in machinery for dyeing, bleaching, and printing. The same year, the first building of the complex was erected on a site bound by Eddy, Elm, and South Streets in what is now known as the Jewelry District.  Over the course of the 19th century, the complex would expand across two acres. In 1903, following the failure of Phenix Iron, Narragansett Electric Company purchased and later demolished the plant. The only building not demolished was a 2½-story, random-ashlar, gable-roof structure with clerestory windows. Original 20-over-20 and 16-over-16 evenly-spaced sash windows and round-arch freight doors with heavy granite sills reflected the large façade openings typical of nineteenth century foundries. The building represents one of the earliest industrial buildings in Providence.

At the time of its first inclusion on the Most Endangered Properties list in 1994, the Phenix Iron Foundry stood as one of the few undeveloped buildings in the rapidly revitalizing Jewelry District. Years of neglect and deferred maintenance had caused extensive structural damage, specifically to the roof which allowed water to pour into the interior, causing further damage to floors and structural members. The building was fast approaching the point of irreparable damage and near complete structural decay.

Nevertheless, the industrial building demonstrated remarkable potential for reuse, as evidenced by the success of prior redevelopments in the Jewelry District. The Tax Reform Act of 1986, however, had limited the tax credits formerly available to restoration projects, thereby significantly raising the financial risk associated with the Phenix. In an effort to further promote the building, PPS included the Phenix on its MEP list for five consecutive years. In 1995, PPS staff toured the foundry with Boston University graduate students preparing a feasibility study for its reuse. A proposal to develop the original company building as an office building ultimately fell through.

SAVED: Taking its cue from the failed office proposal, Brown University renovated the Phenix Iron Foundry in 1999 to house the University’s new Office of Development. As of February, 2019, Brown has moved into the newly-renovated Narragansett Electric Company building. The condition of Phenix Iron is good, but its occupancy is unknown.

© 2019 Guide to Providence Architecture. All rights reserved.
Design by J. Hogue at Highchair designhaus, with development & support by Kay Belardinelli.