As technology and engineering advanced, buildings could go taller and taller, something banks loved in the Post-WWII era to showcase their wealth and stature in cities. The Old Stone Bank was a popular banking institution in Rhode Island that was founded in Providence in 1819. In 1969, the bank decided to build a new tower in Downtown Providence, hiring the New York firm of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon (the firm who designed the Empire State Building forty years prior) to design the skyscraper. The 23-story structure is set back from the street and is raised on a podium. The first story is marbled sheathed and serves as a base for the concrete-grid curtain wall, which blends International and Brutalist styles well. The building opened in 1972 and is today known as the Textron Tower. I think it is interesting to read architectural historian views of Modern buildings, as many despise 99% of Post-WWII buildings, but I kind of like this one.
The late 1980s were a time of financial success for developers and banking companies all over the country. It seems that more skyscrapers were constructed in Boston this decade than any other of the 20th century, but working within the confines of the historic downtown of the city, left architects and developers to come up with creative ways to build here. The architectural firm of Kohn Pederson Fox was hired to construct a 20+ story office tower at the southern edge of the Financial District in Boston, while preserving the small-scale commercial buildings there. A row of four-story commercial blocks constructed after the Great Boston Fire of 1872 were retained with the tower seemingly growing out of them. The process here is known as “facadism” which is a valuable preservation tool to balance preservation with density in historic downtowns, though not always done right. This KPF design with its Post-Modern tower in concrete and granite fits well within the streetscape and maintains a walkable block downtown.
What do you think of this design?
One of the most perplexing and hated buildings in Downtown Boston is the former Fiduciary Trust Building at 175 Federal Street. The building exudes 1970s Corporate Modern design, focusing on large floor plates with minimal intrigue at the exterior. Sadly, Boston has quite a bit in the Financial District, but many are getting facelifts! This 17-story tower was designed by The Architects Collaborative (TAC) which was founded by Walter Gropius, one of the pioneers of Modernist architecture. The building is hexagonal with all six sides being of different lengths. TAC had to construct a tower that avoided large utility lines, the MBTA tunnel, and street patterns, which resulted in an “urban flower” which cantilevers over the narrow base. As of 2020, plans have been unveiled that show the building will be updated and a glass-enclosed lobby installed.
One of the strangest and intriguing buildings in New England is the Turk’s Head Building at the intersection of Westminster and Weybosset Streets in Downtown Providence. The flatiron building was designed by architectural firm of Howells & Stokes , and was constructed on the site of a ca. 1750 home owned by the early 19-century by Jacob Whitman. The skyscraper’s peculiar name dates back to that time when shopkeeper Jacob Whitman mounted a ship’s figurehead above his store. The figurehead, which came from the ship Sultan, depicted the head of an Ottoman warrior. Whitman’s store was called “At the sign of the Turk’s Head”. The figurehead was lost in a storm, and today a stone replica is found on the building’s 3rd floor façade.
The granite-clad building was built by the Brown Land Company as an investment property for members of the Brown family. It has continuously housed stock brokerages, insurance firms, advertising agencies, professional offices, and a bank since its construction. It was home to the investment firm Brown, Lisle/Cummings Inc. since the building opened in 1913, a continuation of the Brown Family.
Known locally as the “Superman Building”, the Industrial National Bank Building in Downtown Providence stands as the tallest building in Rhode Island, but has been vacant for nearly 10 years! The building was constructed in 1928 and can be classified as Art Deco in style, but has more Classical detailing, echoing the end of the Beaux-Arts movement. The building was given the nickname “The Superman Building” as residents claimed it looks like the Daily Planet Building in Superman comics (I don’t see it).
Designed by the firm of Stone, Carpenter & Willson, the building was constructed to serve as the headquarters of the Industrial Trust Company, which was founded in 1886. The building was occupied most of its history by the firm who went through a series of mergers and name changes, until Bank of America (the owner as of 1998) moved the offices of the occupant bank to Boston. Just before the economic recession of 2008, the building was purchased by High Rock Development for over $33 million. Tenants began moving out of the building, with the last (a Bank of America office) leaving in 2013.
Stories say that various projects have been envisioned by the developer, ranging from demolition to luxury apartments, with no movement in sight. It appears that the State Historic Preservation Office is not willing to allow Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits for a project in some articles. As of February 2020, the University of Rhode Island Providence Campus appears to be interested in occupying at least part of the building. Fingers crossed!