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This is the most forceful architectural statement of early nineteenth-century Providence. Designer and builder John Holden Greene, a member of the congregation, considered this building his chef d’oeuvre, and he was right. While the granite-block building follows the formula of pulpit-focused-square-plan nave fronted by a tower and spire first seen locally in the First Baptist Church, Greene invents this formula with fresh vigor and monumentality. Greene’s work has been pejoratively compared with that of his slightly older contemporary, Boston’s Charles Bulfinch, but such analysis ignores Greene’s gutsiness, typical of provincial centers and found in abundance in the early nineteenth-century Providence architecture. The projecting entrance pavilion on the façade breaks all the canonical architectural rules (that central window!), but it works. The erupting tower and spire that really belong in late seventeenth-century England are nonetheless beautifully proportioned and exert a commanding presence on the declining western slope of College Hill. The attractively exuberant exterior, however, leads to a far more serene interior, befitting a congregation that early on became Unitarian. A low saucer dome skims above delicate Corinthian columns that gracefully intersect the three-sided balcony. The focus of the box pews is the handsome mahogany pulpit (also Greene’s design).

The building was extensively damaged by fire after lightning struck the building in 1966. Irving B. Haynes & Associates oversaw the painstaking restoration. To the rear is a parish hall, also in granite block, built in two stages: the first, immediately east of the church, was designed by Stone & Carpenter (Alfred Stone was also a member of the church) and built in 1878; the second, replacing a modernist 1950s addition, was designed by Centerbook Associates and James Barnes Associates and completed in 2002. The 2002 addition is remarkable both visually and programmatically: it plays off the 1878 building without being deferential or particularly whimsical, and the serpentine glass wall separating the two masonry masses makes a fine transition that allows the 2002 mass to respect the street line. As originally built and also for how it was evolved, this is one of the best examples of high-quality architecture in Providence.

– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture

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