Probably designed and built by Broadway resident Perez Mason (his role is neither clear nor well documented but long lived in local lore), whose own residence shares similar forms and details, this is in many ways the residential climax of the street, sited appropriately near the west end before the street’s architectural valediction at St Mary’s Church. A wedding-cake-like confection, it is Providence’s consummate “gingerbread” house. Built for a manufacturer of loom harnesses, important to nineteenth century textile production, it became the home in the early 1880’s of a buttonhook manufacturer and street-railway tycoon. The dress-designing and -making Tirocchi sisters, its most significant occupants, lived here for much of the twentieth century and played an important- but until the twenty-first century, not-well-understood – role in Providence’s emergence as a fashion-design center.
– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture
Built for John Kendrick, a manufacturer of loom harnesses, important to 19th-century textile production, it became the home of buttonhook manufacturer and street-railway tycoon George W. Prentice in the early 1880s. Anna Tirocchi and Laura Tirocchi Cella operated A. & L. Tirocchi, a dress-making shop, at this location from 1915 to 1947, catering to wealthy clients, many of whom were wives and daughters of the newly successful industrialists from Providence and Fall River. Their first shop was located in the Butler Exchange Building on Westminster Street from 1911 to 1915. In 1915, Laura married and Anna purchased the house on Broadway, at which time they had already developed their wealthy clientele.
The shop and its owners bridged three socio-cultural groups: their employees (from southern Italy), themselves (from near Rome), and their powerful and wealthy clients. The shop was located on the second and third floors of the house. The third floor served as the workshop where the “girls,” as they were called, fabricated, decorated, beaded, altered, and tailored the clothing to the desires of the clientele. A. & L. Tirocchi employed women from thriving Italian American families. For these young women, the sewing rooms were “safe areas” where women were sheltered from exploitation and bad behavior and were under the supervision of two female members of their own community.
When Anna Tirocchi died in 1947, Laura Tirocchi Cella wrapped all the shop’s records in tissue paper and carefully put them away. These were not disturbed until 1989 when curators from the RISD Museum were invited by Laura’s son, Dr. Louis J. Cella Jr., inheritor of the house, to make their choice of objects for the Museum. When curators entered the house, it was a time capsule; everything from the shop’s operation lay untouched for over 40 years. Eighteen cubic feet of archival materials were inventoried and acquired by RISD, and two thousand additional objects were given to the University of Rhode Island. Such complete documentation of an historical dressmaking business exists nowhere else in the United States. The Tirocchi collection is an unparalleled resource for understanding many wide-ranging historical issues, including Italian immigration, women as workers and consumers, and the transition from hand production of garments to ready-to-wear clothing.
SAVED: As of February 2019, the Dirt Palace, a Providence-based feminist artist collective, is rehabilitating the house into artist-in-residence quarters. You can follow updates on their progress on their website.