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Most Endangered Properties List

Of the four large, early churches in Providence, this, designed and built by John Holden Greene, is the most reworked – work that has gone on consistently over the life of the building but has achieved inconsistent effects. The timing and nature of the changes, however, reveal liturgical and philosophical metamorphoses within the Protestant Episcopal Church. The main church (which replaced a smaller wood-frame structure on the site since 1722) by John Holden Greene married the established formula of nave fronted by an entrance stair tower (also employed at the similarly sited First Baptist Church), with “Gothick” detail derived from English architectural pattern books. While Gothic architecture became a common inspiration for churches in the mid-nineteenth century, the detail here, especially for its time, owed more to style than to religious associations. Moreover, Greene, who was not an Episcopalian, applied similar Gothicizing detail to other projects not religious in nature. A chapel, now used as a library, by Richard Upjohn, fronting on Church Street to the south, was added in 1856, and Clifton A. Hall added the south transept ten years later. In the interior, a round saucer dome (compare with First Congregational Church and Providence Institution for Savings) hovers over the box-pew-filled nave. The now seldom-if-ever-used sanctuary to the east, separated from the nave by a rood screen in a then-acceptable hierarchal worship posture that separated clergy and laity (compare St Stephen’s Church), and the south transept were remodeled just after the turn of the last century. Cram, Goodhue & Ferguson’s somewhat heavy-handed English-Baroque-style remodeling is unusual in their work. The most recent transformation, in 1967, blew out the crossing to establish a free-standing altar that allows more direct contact between celebrant and congregation. While this revision allows far more liturgical flexibility, increasingly important since the building’s designation as an episcopal seat in 1929, it only reinforces the building’s visual uneasiness. Next door, the 1960s Diocesan Office by Milman & Sturges represents an anxious attempt to bridge the modern-contextual gap.

In 2012, the Diocese closed the Cathedral due to a dwindling congregation and growing maintenance needs. Even before then, it was apparent the Diocese could not maintain the building. PPS included the property on the Most Endangered Properties Lists in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014. Throughout this period, the deteriorated church tower and roof allowed water into the building, leading to decay of wood structural elements as well as deterioration of plaster walls and ceiling in the sanctuary. In 2024, it was spotlighted on PPS’ list of Most Endangered Places as part of its Sacred Places listing to demonstrate how religious places across the City are struggling from vacancy and underutilization.

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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.