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When the statewide survey of historic resources was conducted between 1970 and 1985 in Providence, documentation and preservation of resources more than 50 years old at the time received highest priority. This left properties built since 1940, “the recent past” period, vulnerable to inappropriate treatment or demolition because they are undocumented. The What Cheer Mutual Fire Insurance Co. Building is a prime example of a historic resource of “the recent past.” In Providence: A Citywide Survey of Historic Resources, the structure is referred to as “a good example of the conservative corporate modernism of 1950s Providence architecture.”

Erected in 1948 as the What Cheer Mutual Fire Insurance Co. and designed by architect Samuel Lerner, this structure is a two-story brick and limestone flat-roof office building. The facility was donated to the United Way in the late 1970s by insurer FM Global. In October 2007, United Way sold the building to RI Acquisitions, a partnership of developers Andrew Rockett and Charles Irving.

When it was included on the Most Endangered Properties list 2009, the building’s uncertain future caused a stir in the community. As a prominent part of the Wayland Street area, loss of the United Way Building would dramatically disrupt the surrounding neighborhood. The corner location makes it an integral part of the current mixed-use development pattern. City Councilman Seth Yurdin actively campaigned for the building’s placement in the Industrial Commercial Buildings District (ICBD), which would require review by the Historic District Commission before the structure could be demolished. The building, however, was ultimately not placed in the ICBD and it remained vulnerable. Developers had proposed to demolish the structure to make way for a suburban-style pharmacy with a drive-through lane. Although developers struck an informal agreement with Yurdin to drop plans for the suburban-style pharmacy, no further action was taken.

The What Cheer Mutual Fire Insurance Building, in addition to being a well-executed, good example of modern architecture is a rare instance of a form that must be preserved for future generations, particularly until a survey of these resources can be done and their significance is better understood.

SAVED: As of February, 2019, the building has been renovated, with the addition of a rooftop restaurant.

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© 2023 Guide to Providence Architecture. All rights reserved. Design by J. Hogue at Highchair designhaus, with development & support by Kay Belardinelli.