Stone, Carpenter & Willson’s powerful railroad-station complex is just what it should be. Situated on a rise above Kennedy Plaza, the simply articulated five building group, constructed of yellow Roman brick and sandstone, is impressive without being overwhelming. The passenger station, at center, features a Roman triumphal arch as its principal portal. The triumphal arch, traditionally used during the Italian Renaissance as gates to walled cities, was adapted for the frontispiece of the train station at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where the architects of this complex built the Rhode Island pavilion. The easternmost building of the original complex was lost to fire in the early 1940s; the building standing on its foundations was built a story higher than the original in the early 1990s (but who would know, given the breadth and siting of this group?). The complex was remarkably severe and quite modern for the 1890s, even more so in its engineering (lost in conversion of the complex from station to offices) than in its simple exterior articulation. The complex’s circulation relied on an interior network of ramps and stairs that linked buildings and extensive tracks to the rear, an anticipation of the complexity of McKim, Mead & White’s 1910 Pennsylvania Station in New York (demolished in 1963) and still visible at Warren & Wetmore’s 1913 Grand Central Station. Following the removal of the rail lines several hundred feet to the north, the complex was converted to commercial and industrial use. The Rhode Island Foundation, the state’s leading community foundation, occupies the original passenger station.
– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture