This large cubistic building was one of the most controversial additions to the city’s architectural collection. Designed as the corporate headquarters for Old Stone Bank by Edward Larrabee Barnes, a well-established architect of slick corporate buildings, it was originally proposed as two three-story, mirror-image, stepped-back brick buildings aligned along an axis extending west from the front door of Old Stone Bank. This proposal prompted tremendous opposition from every quarter – especially from the preservation community, which held as sacrosanct the open space south of College Street between South Main and South Water Streets, citing the historic view it allowed. This view developed only after 1950, however, following the demolition for surface parking of the historic warehouses that served the Port of Providence throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. So much for historical accuracy!
To address community concerns, and because federal financial subsidies supported the project, Mayor Vincent A. Cianci, Jr, appointed a blue-ribbon committee that included historians, architects, preservationists, and bank representatives. At their direction, Barnes went back to the drawing board and produced a second design, which kept the building’s overall plan but fragmented its massing in a manner reminiscent of the nearby Court House. The plan received greater public approval but elicited a lawsuit from the corporate owner of a building in the financial district across the river, because it blocked their own building’s view of historic South Main Street. At that point, the discussions became private between the two corporate entities.
In the end, Old Stone Bank agreed to abandon federal subsidies, to build only on the south side of their parcel, to create a park on the north half of the parcel, and to retain exclusive design review. Thus Providence gained this egotistical corporate-image building (certainly more appropriate an image for Ralston-Purina and definitely better suited to St. Louis than here) for a bank that closed its doors only a few years after this was completed. Its virtues include interest as an object, although it is too big an object and was built at a time when such an attitude was becoming wearying, and the craft with which it was assembled, an attribute found in most of Barnes’s building. After twenty years it continues to startle the urban observer, even one who views it daily. Immediately to the north, however, the effect is softened by the park designed by William H. Whyte and intentionally commissioned by the bank for that very effect.
– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture