The Fruit Hill/Manton Avenue School was constructed as a public grammar school in 1888; Fruit Hill was one of 61 public schools built in Providence between 1870 and 1900 at which time the city was witnessing a massive influx of immigrants. Designed by the prominent firm of William R. Walker & Son, this 2-story, hipped-roof, brick schoolhouse retained much of its original architectural character today. Its unique classical detailing included quoining, a modillion cornice and elaborate arcade porticoes.
The history of this building is sadly typical of many of the early 20th-century public schools sold off by the city during the 1980s. While some of these schools have been reused, many have remained vacant and poorly maintained. Still, the size, structural stability and location of these offer great potential for reuse. Many of these former schools could even be restored to functional classrooms to alleviate the city schools’ persistent shortage of space. When it was first included on the 1998 Most Endangered Properties list, the Fruit Hill School had stood vacant and neglected for over a decade, ripe nevertheless for reuse as commercial or residential space. The building displayed enormous potential to contribute to the historic character of the surrounding mill district.
LOST: Despite the efforts of the Preservation Society and the City Planning Department, the building was demolished in September 2002. Still, the condition of Providence’s late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century schools continue to inspire support for their rehabilitation. These efforts have slowly led to the restoration of several buildings citywide and their reuse as condominiums or office space. The Potters Avenue School, included with the Fruit Hill Avenue and Grove Street Schools in past MEP lists, was redeveloped as condominiums, while the Willow Street School, included on the 1994 MEP list, was restored as housing for developmentally challenged adults. According to the West Broadway Neighborhood Association, the restoration of the Willow Street School has not only positively impacted the physical streetscape, it has also helped to reestablish a sense of community. Despite these successes, several of the city’s historic school buildings continue to be endangered by threats of demolition or abandonment.