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 2019 and will continue to dispel ideas that it cannot be rehabilitated. We encourage the City, State and business community to do whatever it takes to fund rehabilitation of this building. It is crucial to the success of downtown Providence and, therefore, to the State, that this iconic building be restored and put back into use.
In 2019, the building was listed as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered.
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