The Ward Baking Company was founded in 1849 in New York City. In 1921, the name was changed to Continental Baking Company, and it became the makers of Wonder Bread and Twinkie snack cakes. Their bakery in Providence’s Jewelry District was built between 1901 and 1908 and, surviving insertion of Interstates 95 and 195, was active through the 1970s. The bakery complex, located in a wedge bounded by Globe, Eddy and Marengo Streets, continued to be extended through 1956. After the bakery vacated, food wholesalers and manufacturers, including Victory Plating, occupied the building until vacancy—coupled with demolition threats and unrealized redevelopment plans—began to prevail.
In 2011, the former Ward Baking Co. property was in what was then the Industrial & Commercial Buildings District under the Historic District Commission. When the buildings were slated for demolition, the HDC granted demolition of the accessory buildings with the stipulation that the administration building be saved. As a result of the mass demolition and vulnerability of the surviving building, PPS first listed it as an MEP in 2012.
Unrealized plans for a nursing education center, research office campus, and even consideration for a new Paw Sox stadium, petered out with Rhode Island Hospital (Lifespan) purchasing the property in 2015 with no immediate plan for its reuse. Five years later, the owner sought a permit for emergency demolition. The city’s building official issued a notice for emergency repairs instead, an action which the Providence Building Board of Appeal upheld. This decision was recently overturned by the State Building Code Standards Committee in the hospital’s favor, and demolition of the Ward Baking Co. building is imminent.
PPS strongly disagrees with the state’s decision to effectively grant a demolition permit when the city’s building inspector found the structure not to be an imminent public safety threat in August 2020. Five years of the owner’s willful neglect should not be rewarded with a demolition permit. We are hopeful that this preventable loss will pressure the city to redouble its efforts to cite demolition by neglect and to fulfill its enforcement obligation.
Furthermore, we believe the Ward Baking Co. Administration Building is a strong candidate for a facadism intervention. This is the preservation practice of preserving the facade (exterior walls– in this case those facing Eddy and Marengo Streets including the chamfered corner) and building a new structure behind them. There is no rational reason that the existing yellow brick with glass block building cannot be integrated, in part or full, into a new redevelopment plan, upholding the HDC’s prior ruling to retain the historic building, and maintaining this character-defining corner building in a sea of vacant lots.
2/19/21 Update: Sadly, Ward Baking Company Building was demolished in February 2021 – true loss for the historic landscape of Providence.