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Photos 1-3 by Robert Brewster for the National Registration nomination Form; Photos 4-5 from the Library of Congress HABS for the Provisions Warehouse District District; Photos 14-29 by Patrick Leahy; Photos 30-37 by Get Fancy. Photos 39-40 from a Carpionato presentation. Photos 41-47 by Emily Walters Photo 58 from Davis circa 1979
Providence Fruit & Produce Warehouse

 

A link to the Google Street View of this building, around 9/2007 for those of you who would like to relive this stretch of building along Harris Ave.
A video with music on YouTube prominently featuring the Tourtellot building
Urban Planet Discussion
The full image #38 from the Providence Preservation Society library
A wide view of image #04 from the HABS collection, circa mid-90s
The Library of Congress: HABS / Built in America page

the low down

We mourn the loss of the Fruit and Produce Warehouse, which through a series of unfortunate events and a pattern of neglect, had to come down for public safety reasons. This warehouse represents the last major component of an important historic district. When the Merchants Cold Storage building came down in 1998, we should have known that the rest of the district was doomed. If a developer with vision (granted they are out-of-town) can redevelop the structurally sound but completely unfinished and vagrant-infested Masonic Temple, why not this building?

Those of you interested in seeing my How to Demolish a National Register Building in 10 Easy Steps, check it here.

timeline

Timeline of the Providence Fruit and Produce Warehouse

1929, built
Used as a go-between for refrigerated goods coming off of train cars and loading onto trucks for distribution. $1 million dollar construction cost, 965 feet long, 60 feet wide, 25 feet tall. Basement level extended to 90 feet in width, extending below the loading docks. A tunnel connected this structure to the then-neighboring Merchants Cold Storage Warehouse. 71 loading bays. Architect, Emory W. Ballou of Jenks and Ballou. Constructed with a steel frame and poured concrete skeleton and finished with red brick. (National Register Nomination Form, Edward Connors, 2004.)
1929-1998 (69 years)
In continuous use by the Providence Produce Warehouse Company and its tenants. One of the longest-running businesses to operate was the Tourtellot Company, a tenant since 1929, run by William J. Canaan. Towards the end of its life, the PFWC had competition from large supermarket chains who bought direct from growers. (National Register Nomination Form, Edward Connors, 2004.)
1998, acquired by the State DOT
Cost of $14.1 million to acquire the building and surrounding lands. Care was taken to loop the Mall’s off ramp around the building. As state/federal money purchased a National Register Structure, they could not knock it down completely. Instead, a section about 100 feet long was lopped off the end of the structure to make room for the off ramp. “The state bought the building from Amtrak… and evicted the remaining businesses. It held the property for six years while it debated what to do with it — either knock it down or sell it — and the property deteriorated, becoming a haven for the homeless and a draw for graffiti artists." (Providence Journal, Jan 12)
2005, Suspicious Fire investigated (Providence Journal, April 11)
“Firefighters doused a smoky, smelly and suspicious fire inside the old farmer’s market building on Harris Avenue last evening. Nobody was hurt, which took about 20 minutes to put out, said fire Chief David Costa. The shuttered, state-owned building has no electricity, Costa said. He said it was ‘more than likely’ that somebody had caused the fire. It burned some of the contents of the concrete building, such as old pallets and crates, he said.”
2004, Spring
State and DOT put the building and the land out for a Public Bid, “inviting development proposals so long as they incorporated the existing building into any new design.” (Providence Journal, Jan 15)
2004, July 8
“Carpionato responded to the request with a $4.5-million bid, and on July 8, 2004, proposed a Quincy Market-style development featuring dozens of small shops. The state agreed in principle to the design, and consented to sell the building to Carpionato for $10 million less than the $14.1-million price it had paid to Amtrak seven years before. The reason, state officials said, was that half of the property had been sliced off to allow for the offramp construction. The other reason was that forcing the buyer to re-use the old building clearly reduced the value of the property.” (Providence Journal, Jan 12)
2005, Carpionato purchases building
In a $4.5 million dollar bid, the State agreed to sell the structure to a local developer (for a $10 million loss, plus the cost of constructing the new off-ramp and demolishing a portion of the building, while repairing any structural damage that might have caused). The State was under the impression, and the Request for Bids/Proposals specified that the building be reused, not demolished. Carpionato’s plans included parking and a glass canopy off the back of the structure, with a mix of residential and retail.
2006, June 20
Details of a Purchase and Sale Agreement= “The terms of a purchase agreement dated June 20, 2006, required Carpionato to clear any changes to the property with state historic preservation authorities. At a State Properties Committee meeting that same day, approving the sale, Carpionato’s lawyer, Thomas Moses, acknowledged that the developer had to include renovation of the new building in any development proposals. ‘Mr. Moses indicated that approval of Carpionato Properties Inc.’s development plan is contingent upon its incorporating the existing structure,’ according to the minutes of the meeting. Carpionato has said it plans to use the site for a project that might combine retail, office and hotel uses.” (Providence Journal, Jan 11)
2006, late August
“Two months after the agreement was approved, Carpionato submitted a dramatically modified plan for the property, one that differed totally from its original Quincy Market-style plan. The plan called for demolishing 700 feet of the 810-foot building, adding large retail ‘big box’ stores on the ground floors, and building two 12-story hotel towers rising 120 to 150 feet. ‘It appeared to us that Carpionato did not intend to abide by the terms of the agreement,’ Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Edward F. Sanderson said yesterday. The proposal was so far outside of what the state had envisioned that the Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission rejected it outright in a letter sent Sept. 27, 2006.” (Providence Journal, Jan 12)
2007, February, Carpionato closes on the paperwork
“The final sale was delayed several months by the need to account for an easement over the property held by Amtrak, but the deal was finally concluded in February.” (Providence Journal, Jan 12)
2007, August 9 and November 14
“the developer asked Providence Building Official Kerry Anderson to inspect the site, informing him that it might be unsafe.” (Providence Journal, Jan 11)
2007, October
“Carpionato informed Anderson that it would provide him with engineering reports to support their contention that the building was structurally unsound. Anderson delayed his follow-up visit until those reports arrived, in October.” (Providence Journal, Jan 12)
2007, November 14
Anderson visits the site again and “saw that Carpionato’s efforts to fence and board up the building had been undone, and the building was breached at multiple points. ‘The building had obviously been inhabited by vagrants again,’ Anderson said. ‘Once they mend one piece of the fence, people go around and cut another piece somewhere else. Same with the boarding. There was even evidence of ladder use. People had climbed up on the rear canopy to enter the second-story windows,’ he said.” (Providence Journal, Jan 12)
2007, December 28
Providence Building Official Kerry Anderson “issued a letter ordering Carpionato to obtain a demolition permit.” (Providence Journal, Jan 15)
2008, Jan 8
Carpionato applies for demolition permit. (Providence Journal, Jan 15)
2008, Jan 9
Carpionato gets permission from the City to demolish the building. (Providence Journal, Jan 15)
2008, Jan 10
State of RI “lawyers filed a motion seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent the developer from demolishing the building.” (Providence Journal, Jan 11)
2008, Jan 14
Judge allows demolition to go forward. Demolition begins almost immediately that day. (Providence Journal, Jan 14)

 

From a National Register Nomination form, I think, though – apologies to the author – I forget where I got it.

As a historic building representing changing modes of regional transport located next to the center of Providence’s urban core, the Providence Produce Warehouse meets two of the criteria for National Register Evaluation: it is
A. a [building] associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history and
C. a [building] that embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction [and] represent[s] a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction (NR Bulletin 15).

Constructed in 1929 to facilitate the transfer of produce from trains to trucks, the Produce Warehouse relates “patterns of [Rhode Island’s] development” (NR Bulletin 15) as well as the beginning of Providence’s decline as the railway network began to yield to the increasing presence of truck and highway based trade. The property represents this historical context of changing modes of trade via its different northern and southern façades. While the southern façade is organized with a small awning and many elevators so that a long train could pull up alongside the building and swiftly unload its wares car by car, northern façade features deeper bays arranged so that individual trucks could back in and pick-up the same goods the train recently deposited. This physical design reflects the changing transportation technologies in the United States as well as how these new technologies were affecting basic societal needs – such as food distribution.

In addition to its significance as a representative of the changing modes of trade in depression era Rhode Island (criteria A), the Providence Produce Warehouse contains materials and design elements that reflect “transition between classes of resources” and “developing technology of particular structural systems” (criteria C, NR Bulletin 15). Its reinforced concrete pilasters and masonry walls display the mix of building techniques employed in Rhode Island’s 20th century industrial design and its cable stayed steel awnings represent one of the newest building methods in New England at the time.

Because of the surviving structural elements and the unchanged site of the building, its integrity has remained intact. Except for the end of the building destroyed to make room for the I-95 on-ramp, the “essential physical features” (NR Bulletin 15) are unchanged. Ironically, the greatest obstacles to the building’s successful reuse – its proximity to I-95 and the neighboring railroad tracks – also show how influential the building was in shaping Providence’s transportation lines. In many ways, the historic integrity of the building has been strengthened by the very things which have physically weakened it.

When first constructed in 1929 at a cost of one million dollars, the Providence Produce Warehouse was 965 feet long, 58 feet wide, and 25 feet tall. Its brick façade featured 71 loading bays on the northern side punctuated by 7 reinforced concrete towers. Although it as since been shortened by removing the eastern most of the towers and seven of the neighboring loading bays, the now 810 feet long building is otherwise largely intact. Both the northern and southern faces feature elevated loading docks covered by extremely rusty cable stayed steel awnings, although four bays on the southern side have had this awning removed. On the southern side these awnings extend out approximately ten feet while on the northern side they extend out approximately twenty feet. The reinforced concrete pilasters decorating the railroad towers and dividing the bays feature limited art-deco detailing near their tops, but this is some of the only ornamentation on the functional building. On the southern side, there are 11 windowed “cupolas” that contained freight elevators to carry goods to the basement, second and third stories of the three story building.

The structure has undergone a number of modifications beside the shortening, although none of these modifications alter the fundamental structure of the building. The bulk of the first story entrances have been covered with plywood and the loading docks have been co-opted as break areas by construction workers at the adjacent Jefferson at Providence Place development. Many of the second story windows and some of the third story windows have been either bricked or cinder-blocked in. One of the freight elevators on the southern side has had a smokestack installed in it although the reason for this modification is unclear. The mushroom column-supported interior is largely open, although some sections have had interior walls installed and others contain heavy machinery from previous tenants.

Kerri Feb 19 2009 My grandfather worked here from the 1950s until he retired in the early 1990s. I even have one of his pencils from here with “Tourtellot” inscribed on it.

Mitchell Pinsly Aug 8 2008 I worked at this building in the summers of 1961-1963 for Feinberg & Co. and Ace Packing. It was a bustling site with workers arriving at 3AM and buyers coming throughout the mornings to make purchases for the retail stores. I have fond memories of those summers and regret the demise of the building.

Roland Apr 5 2008 Back in the early 70’s, my uncle had a flour business transporting flour from the Moshassuck Valley Railroad on Higginson Ave. We also transported flour from King Arthur up in Boston to JAR Bakery Supply in this building. There wasn’t anything remarkable except the huge supply of farm produce near JAR. I recall the railyard on the north side of the building and it was name simply as Yard 17. Memory is a bit fuzzy and it might just be where the 903 is now. The produce market (wa)s probably the last of its kind around Providence and it was the hub also for train transport.

Agreed 03-02-2008 Industrial Revolution, too true! Best part is I’m sure the people wailing about it’s demolition knew the people involved and considered it “art”.

Industrial Revolution 02-11-2008A nice big thanks to everyone who goes inside historic buildings like this and leaves grafitti, garbage everywhere and breaks things. You create the images developers need to defeat preservationists. Nice Job.

Ryan C. 02-06-2008I am Looking to do a Documentary on the marvelious building. I was wondering if there was anyone who actually may have worked there and would be intrested in being interviewed please feel free to contact me via e-mail to set up a time that is best for you (Radicul [at] cox [dot] net). Thanks.

RegalBegal 01-15-2008I was always hoping something productive could be done with the space. It’s a shame really.

Ron Henderson (This will be unpopular, but…) Boycott Carpionato. That means Whole Foods at University Heights and all the other businesses in this East Side commercial center. When do we stop letting developers run amock in the city ?

Kathy Thanks for posting John DeVault’s Tourtellot video. Just to let you know that there are two other related pieces which feature the building. Thanks for your part in trying to save it, it will be missed.
youtube.com/watch?v=1SifdeAaOL0&feature=user
http://youtube.com/watch?v=hJE6YANhQ6Y&feature=related

903owner As an owner at The 903 I think it’s sad that the building is going to be demolosihed, I am going to miss it.

Roger Acosta Summer of 2001 I picked up some friends from England who arrived in JFK. I decided to return to Providence by train and then the most embarrising moment in my life when the train got closer and closer to city. We were all spechless of the most horrible view when pasing in from of this building the so called Fruit and Produce Market. It was like we were arrinving to the past of London after being bombed by Germany. There were no words to expalin why that was the entrance to Providence. I believe in preservation or right out demolition. This building must desapear or transform.

Liam369 WOW this is wild that this historic wharehouse has a website. This means my friends and I made history here. I have to add in the specifics of the (Outback Appleshack) HaHa so funny I almost forgot that me and my skate crew (PSC) came up with that name as we built this skate spot in 2000. Just to drop the names for the crew that constructed this now historical skate park that so many enjoyed. Thanks to Rich, Rob, Tino, Liam, Todd, and any other friends that helped. We were just a small crew that wanted to make our own skate park, to our suprise that we built a great indor skate park that it attracted some visiting pro skateboarders from the Gravity Games. Those pics give no justice to what our final project turned out to be. I wish I had some pics. We had a lot of fun and trouble in that place until some ungrateful punk kids lite our above lounge room on fire and sootted the place up. We abandoned it once again and no one returned except the homeless that live there. In 2003 were returned when we picked up Paint Ball. We then built on the top floor a 4 room paint ball war house that had multiple secret entrances and hide outs, and we wanted to buy it out and make it a legit paintball business. We did our research and Providence did not want to sell. So what ever they do with it I am just glad that we made history with our teenage hood hang out spot. PSC

jasper during the summer of ‘06 two boys turned two of the rooms on the third into installation pieces. to access them you went around behind the building and to the side furthest from the mall and either climbed up to the broken window on the third floor (by climbing up onto the “porch” main platform, turning left and using the wooden grid that’s placed like a ladder ontop of the mattress to climb up.) or by finding the basement window that’s open and finding your way up to the third floor. the rooms they renovated were two rooms that fed into a central room; this central room being the last room on the furthest side of the building from the mall; on the third floor. one of the redone rooms was done by “lush’ and the other by “wake’. lush’s room has a wall built by cardboard boxes and working headphones with wings suspended from the ceiling. there’s graffiti by the two boys all over the walls of that room and it can be lit by touchlamps on the floors. the room by wake is more classic. it has two curtains in the back that are on either side of a brcik wall the boys built. there is furniture placed as if it is someone’s living room… there’s candle’s for lighting and if you look through the hole in ther wall you’ll see a fireplace with money spread out in front of it. all in all it’s definitley something worth seeing; pictures of it are up one of the boys’ facebooks pages.

P3AM What an interesting building. It’s worth exploring. The third floor is worth another look, especially the two rooms at the very farthest end. Go in through the basement.

401-RUSH Just if anyone is interested, the skatepark in this spot which under went a few different names (outback appleshack, Potato factory, etc.) was built by PSC (Providence Skate Crew). It was completed using materials “found” in local construction sites. The locker entrance was constructed by a member to keep uninvited guests out. We would like to thank all the junkies, Providence Police, and RI underworld for the fire, smashing up the ramps and essentially ruining what was a great spot for local skaters and graffiti punks. This place was a great example of what a bunch of high school drop outs and thayer street rats can do with a space most of the well to do in Providence want to destroy. Others examples include Olneyville, the Thayer Street Mansion, and the Masonic Temple.

Andy What an amazing space! Now that the Jefferson is open and filling with tenants and the Foundry almost complete as condos, not to mention P. Place... theres going to be a flurry of activity in the Promenade section of the city. How great it would be to use this with numerous multifuntions. Artisan shops and boutiques, cafes, a fruit veggie & flower market, a News Stand (there arent and notable news stands I can think of in an area like this) perhaps some late night eatery, Trader Joes, etc. Include perhaps more retail and the second floor then add a mix of low income artist space/loft live-work studio with a mix of some decently priced apartments for those fresh out of college who are mature, but who might not yet have a set career path on the third floor with roof top decks and patios. Anchor it on both ends with a resturant / lounge, both occupying three levels. I should get some credit for this.

another J I was up to no good with some friends there about 5 years ago. All of a sudden an undercover pulled into the parking lot, and we all paniced. We ended up jumping out the top story windows down to the rickety awning I had cuts all over from making it out the windows.

The information about each building grows as visitors let us know about their experiences. Did you or a member of your family work here? Did you grow up near it as a child? Let us know. All entries will be moderated and may be posted in an edited form. We will use your name unless you tell us otherwise. We will not make your email public.

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