This property as an architectural remnant reflects a most interesting mishmash of uses, styles, and eras— spanning two centuries—best understand today from above (via Google Earth). Originally, the property was the monumental Westminster Congregational Church designed by James Bucklin and/or Russell Warren in 1829. Following the congregation’s move to Elmwood, the building was used as a skating rink and, in 1906, was rechristened as the Scenic Temple Theater, home to Vaudeville and motion pictures.
Much of the second-story brick façade visible from Mathewson Street today dates from 1919 when the portico, or colonnaded porch of the church, was removed and the building remodeled by William R. Walker & Son as the Rialto Theatre. In the mid-20th century, the back of the theater was removed for a parking lot and the ground-level portion of the front façade given a new treatment for shops with offices above. The commercial use has shrunk to only a convenience store remaining open today with the other storefronts shuttered.
Extant building layers and the open lot in the rear provide a fascinating opportunity for adaptive reuse with 21stcentury infill and intervention. Surely a new use can be found for this valuable and vulnerable downtown development opportunity. Otherwise, if demolished, Providence would lose a slice of its ecclesiastical and theatrical history.
The Rialto Theatre is under the purview of the Downtown Design Review Committee and a contributing building to the Downtown Providence National Register Historic District.
– 2019 Most Endangered Properties
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