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Weybosset Hill is the area bounded by Empire Street on the east, Broad and Washington Streets on the south and the north, and Interstate 95 on the west. Like so many redeveloped area across the country, this was dense with small-scale buildings. Here, it was largely commercial, much like the low-rise buildings on the east side of Empire Street. The area cleared for redevelopment avoided major landmarks: the telephone company, the YMCA, and two church complexes, including the episcopal seat for the state’s Roman Catholic diocese. The decision to redevelop this area was carefully deliberate, a recommendation of the City Plan Commission’s master plan for the city’s center. Published in 1959, Downtown Providence 1970 freezes forever the brave new world of post-World War II American planning. The vision that fueled such plans in many ways laid the groundwork for the preservation reaction in the 1960s that precipitated the national Historic Preservation Act of 1966. What is even more fascinating about Downtown Providence 1970 is that the City Plan Commission’s involvement occurred in exactly the same time frame, 1956 to 1959, as the landmark preservation document College Hill: A Demonstration Study of Historic Area Renewal, the country’s first neighborhood-wide preservation-planning document. “Sweep it clean,” however, was the dictum here, and the result is a rather sterile exercise as it unfolded. Most critical for the city, however, is the way this area cuts off Downtown from the west side of the city by closing Westminster Street west of Empire Street, perhaps the first of many decisions relating to development and traffic that hinder moving easily from one area to another. Probably the most urbanistic approach to this area for the visitor, which also best reveals the flaws, is to enter from Empire Street, just opposite the west end of Westminster Street.

4 Cathedral Square (1977) and 5 Cathedral Square (1975)

Robinson, Green & Beretta are the architects for one of the more successful developments in this area, the two mirror-image brick buildings lining the former right of way of Westminster Street. Arcaded first stories lining the pedestrian walk have storefronts, intended in more optimistic times for retail sales, while upper stories have residential units. This holds the passageway well and actually increases the drama of arriving in the open space of Cathedral Square just beyond.

– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture

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© 2024 Guide to Providence Architecture. All rights reserved. Design by J. Hogue at Highchair designhaus, with development & support by Kay Belardinelli.