Historic preservation of a former banking institution spawned a state-of-the-art library and a residential hall for 500 students. The Italian Renaissance-style banking hall in the RI Hospital Trust Bank Building was donated to RISD in 2002 by FleetBoston Financial Corporation. RISD was confronted with the challenge of adapting the spacious banking hall to serve as a functioning library to house its collection of art and design volumes, magazines, and multimedia resources. In addition to these resources, the library also includes space for group study areas, classrooms, a cafe, and administrative offices. The upper floors of the building were later acquired by RISD for use as a residence hall called 15 West.
RISD contracted with architectural design firm Office dA of Boston. The firm faced the task of integrating several diverse elements and features into 55,000 square feet of usable space, four times the size of the former library. The resulting design made 117,000 volumes accessible in the stacks.
“The opportunity to revitalize one of downtown Providence’s most beautiful buildings and incorporate it into our campus is very exciting,” said RISD President Roger Mandle in 2005. “Our library’s distinctive collection deserves the type of preservation and presentation this new facility will provide.” Add to that the energy and vibrancy of 500 upperclass and graduate students living on the floors above and the Fleet Library will captures the school at its best – open, accessible, vibrant and interactive.
“The cost of putting the library in there is about $200 per square foot; that’s a remarkable price,” Mandle went on to say. “[To build a new building with] architecture of that quality plus the furnishings, it would probably be $600 per square foot. You can’t build buildings like that anymore.”
This historic building was designed in 1917 by the architectural firm York & Sawyer. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
The Rhode Island Hospital Trust Company was the first trust company incorporated in New England, with its humble beginnings on South Main Street in 1867. It was required by its charter to pay annually one-third of all the net annual profits over and above six percent to the Rhode Island Hospital, for the assistance of which the company was in part incorporated. By mutual agreement, the arrangement was later cancelled.
RI Hospital Trust was one of the great lending institutions of the 18th century, providing capital to many large and growing businesses, such as the Ann & Hope Company, Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing, and the Wanskuck Company, Worsted and Woolen manufacturers. Many prominent business men of the time were members of it board: Robert H. I. Goddard of Brown & Ives, Edward D. Pearce of the Providence Institution for Savings, Lyman B. Goff of D. Goff & Sons and Union Wadding, Nelson W. Aldrich, an ex-US Senator, Stephen O. Metcalf of the Wanskuck Company, Edward Holbrook, President of Gorham Manufacturing, Stephen O. Edwards of Edwards & Angell Attorneys, and Webster Knight of the B. B. & R. Knight Manufacturing Company. By 1914, the company was worth $48 million.
As banking has gone, though, RI Hospital Trust was under merger pressures starting in the 80s with Bank of Boston. In 1985, RI Hospital Trust officially merged with Bank of Boston, but retained its name. Global forces made it harder for small institutions to remain competitive. In 1996, Bank of Boston merged with BayBanks, Inc to form BankBoston. By 1998, Ri Hospital Trust changed its name to the new BankBoston. In 1999 BankBoston was later acquired by Fleet Financial, which became Fleet Boston. Finally, in 2004, FleetBoston was acquired by Bank of America, which in 2009, was listed as having $2.25 trillion in assets.
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