This is the city’s most constantly reworked space, and fully interpreting its history would fill a book that could be a landmark in understanding American urbanism. Since its creation as Exchange Place in 1848, an open space in front of the city’s first railroad station complex, its size, configuration, surrounding buildings, and use have been in such ongoing flux that fewer than ten years have ever gone by without significant change to its appearance. Its present overall spatial configuration dates to 1898, when the second Union Station was completed and City Hall Park, the ascending open space in front of that complex, was landscaped. Long a site of public gatherings, this was the obvious site for Providence’s Civil War memorial, the Soldiers and Sailors monument (1871) by Randolph Rogers. It is now occupying its original site, but for most of the twentieth century it was in the middle of the space, a pivot between City Hall at one end and the Federal Building at the other. The monument’s presence encouraged the development of a sculpture collection, including Launt Thompson’s equestrian statue of Major Ambrose Burnside (1887), Enid Yandell’s magnificent and sensual Bajnotti Fountain (1899), and Henri Schonhardt’s “The Scout” (1911) in City Hall Park. The space was renamed in memory of the late president in 1964. The availability of federal funds in the late 1970s for the development of automobile-restricted zones in urban areas encouraged the consolidation of Downtown-wide, local bus-waiting areas here. The relocation of the railroad tracks and the removal of nearby interstate bus station in the mid-1980s further reinforced this use. Kennedy Plaza is now virtually a large al fresco bus station. Martin & Hall’s Trolley Shelter (1914) at the west end was vastly expanded in a fashion seemingly sympathetic but ultimately mocking. Smaller bus-waiting stations fill the rest of the space. The greatest consolidation about this latest incarnation of Kennedy Plaza is the great likelihood that it, too, will be replaced. Off to one side is Fleet Skating Center (inspired by that at Rockefeller Center, which is in a completely different setting), the brainchild of Mayor Vincent A. Cianci, Jr- an odd addition to a fine urban space. Designed by William D. Warner Architects & Planners, the Fleet [now Alex & Ani] rink (1998) presents an entrance pavilion that vacillates between monumentality and contextualism. Ultimately transcending its flaws, Kennedy Plaza is a compelling open space, enhanced by and enhancing some of the city’s best buildings.
– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture