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“The Industrial Trust Building is one of the most iconic buildings in New England. Its unmistakable Art Deco design stands out among a sea of more typical mid-20th-century office towers and hotels. Not only does every Rhode Islander recognize the 1920s marvel in their midst, but so too have millions of drivers traveling through the city over the past century. It has become synonymous with Providence. Having worked inside the Superman Building for 25 years, I can attest that its outward beauty is matched by the character of its interior design and layout…The thought and care with which we manage its transformation into its second century of functional operation will say a great deal about the ambitions of Providence and indeed Rhode Island itself.”

— Oliver Bennett, Senior Vice President, Bank of America (2023)

The Providence skyline’s most identifiable eminence was planned and built as the tallest building in New England, a distinction it retained for more than twenty years. In a splendid show of booming 1920’s provincial boosterism that far outstripped the hubristic Biltmore of just a few years earlier, the bank gained as its signature headquarters one of the country’s most architecturally progressive buildings. The stepped-back skyscraper was a response to New York zoning regulations created to allow greater amounts of light and air in densely built Lower Manhattan, but this building’s New York architects, Walker & Gillette, had no such constraints here.

Only a handful of skyscrapers like this had been built anywhere when this was designed in late 1925 or early 1926. The building, taller by only three stories than the Biltmore Hotel across Kennedy Plaza, is far more commanding a presence because of its site, detail, and massing. It stands on a lot relatively narrow for its depth and consequently presents widely varying profiles in both near and distant views, especially from the hills that rise around Downtown Providence. The tall, smooth base- which originally matched the cornice heights of adjacent, now replaced four story buildings- neatly connected this massive and unusual building to its setting. The relatively conservative decorative vocabulary likewise eased the visual absorption of the ziggurat profile. The interior public space is largely intact, including a monumental banking hall whose approach from either of the narrow ends is one of the city’s most dramatic sequential experiences. On the south side toward the top of the building erupts a small bump from the building erupts a small bump from the building’s vertical thrust. The proffered explanations for its presence range from the mooring for dirigibles to pied-a-terre for corporate officers, but it probably served as a bibulous retreat for bank officers during the dry days of Prohibition, a private forebear of the sumptuous, building-top cocktail lounges on John Portman’s hotels of the 1970’s.

– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture

In 2013, the last tenant, Bank of America, moved out. The current owner, High Rock Development, minimally maintains and secures the building, but limestone panels are spalling due to to lack of proper maintenance against the elements. PPS has included the building on the Most Endangered Properties list from 2014 to 2023 and will continue to advocate for its future until the finish line.

In 2019, the building was listed as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered.

In 2022, there was major headway made regarding the future of this building. In April, High Rock Development came to an agreement with the City of Providence regarding the reuse plan for the building. The tower will be converted into 285 residential units (20% of which will be slated for affordable housing), and 8,000 square feet of commercial space. The original bank floor plan will be reserved for retail, community, and event space. In October, the City Council recommended a 30-year Tax Stabilization Agreement, allowing for the project to viably move forward.

In March 2023, PPS celebrated its Winter Bash in the Industrial Trust Building’s lobby, selling out with more than 800 attendees and raising more than $55,000 for preservation advocacy and education initiatives.

Development on the building remained mostly silent throughout 2023 when construction finally broke ground in the fall. Permits were issued to begin work in late October 2023 for interior demolition and asbestos abatement to prepare the building for construction. It is estimated to last 6-9 months, and will likely continue through the spring.

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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.