The Providence Produce Warehouse was built in 1929 to designs by the architecture firm of Jenks & Ballou as a hub for the distribution of meat and produce in Southeastern New England. Construction costs for the then-state-of-the-art structure totaled over one million dollars and included innovative technology and building techniques reflecting changing transportation systems. Direct train access facilitated the transfer of goods from trains along the southern elevation and trucks along the northern one, while cable-stayed awnings sheltered the elevated loading docks of both sides. The brick facade on the northern side featured seventy-one loading bays punctuated by seven concrete towers. The art-deco detailing of the reinforced pilasters along these towers provided the only ornamentation on the functional building. On the southern side eleven windowed cupolas contained freight elevators to transfer goods among the building’s three stories. At the time of its 1929 construction, the Warehouse stood 965 feet long, 58 feet wide, and 25 feet tall.
Throughout the latter half of the century, however, the continued decentralization of industry, in addition to the introduction of refrigerated trucks and subsequent decline of the commercial railway network, rendered the Warehouse obsolete, even useless, by contemporary standards. By the 1980s the majority of the 174,000 square foot structure was vacant. The Federal government then purchased the structure and tore down the railroad bays and eastern-most towers in order to accommodate the construction of an on-ramp to I-95. In 1999, the last vendor vacated the building.
When it was included on the Most Endangered Properties list in 2000, 2002 and 2003, the Warehouse stood at 810 feet long building and was remarkably intact despite vacancy and deterioration. An early morning fire in 2002 severely damaged the upper level. Another fire in 2005 was quickly extinguished and only burned wooden crates and pallets that were inside the concrete building.
Preservation-minded residents and several state agencies expressed concern over the future of this important building. In 2003, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, the owner of the warehouse at that time, completed a preliminary analysis, which not only confirmed the structural integrity of the building but also advocated for its reuse as residential condominiums, and issued a public request for proposals from developers.
LOST: The Warehouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 and was included as part of the City’s Industrial and Commercial Buildings District (ICBD), both of which provide considerable potential tax advantages for rehabilitation and ensure some preservation protection. Carpionato Properties, a developer with headquarters in Johnston, purchased the building from the State. In January, 2008, Carpionato applied for a demolition permit which was approved and the building was demolished.