Small-scale, low-rise buildings like this charming example by architect Charles P. Hartshorn rarely survive in bustling central business districts. Exceptionally shallow and wide buildings like this were never common in Downtown Providence, but the others have long since vanished as the small lots originally laid out here, when this was principally a mixed-use/residential neighborhood, were merged to form larger parcels for commercial development.
– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture
The Teste Block was built in 1860 to designs by Providence architect Hartshorn (1833-1880) whose work is now exceptionally rare. Among the oldest commercial buildings in downtown, it is an important component of the cluster of those remaining along Westminster and Weybosset Streets between Turk’s Head and Dorrance Street. Featuring red brick with white trim and paired arch windows, this diminutive yet monumental building is striking because of its relatively small size and significant as one of the last of the narrow, low-rise commercial structures in historic Downtown Providence.
Though previously used for office space on the upper floors and retail on the ground floor, the Teste Block has been vacant for three years. The current owner, National Grid, whose Providence office is immediately adjacent on Dorrance Street, has no plans to use or sell it. While the parcel on which it stands has little economic utility by itself, it offers its owner room to expand its local headquarters. In another two years, the owner would have been able to legally demolish the building under Downcity Review Commission regulations, which allow demolition of buildings that remain unoccupied for five years.
SAVED: National Grid, however, had no plans to demolish the building. With support from Providence Mayor Angel Tavares, who urged finding ways to repurpose existing structures, a campaign began to find a developer interested in the property. Providence Capital LLC was just the group, as they not only expressed interest but planned to develop the property into apartments and restaurants. Their plans were approved and the necessary renovations were completed. The developers used state and federal historic tax credits as well as assistance by the Providence Revolving Fund. As of February, 2019, the complex is fully occupied with apartments, a parking garage and three restaurants.