Second Universalist Church


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Fire destroys restaurant

A firefighter is injured in the fire and the fire chief says the building was destroyed.

By Tom Mooney | Providence Journal
Tuesday May 23, 2006

A fire that started inside a restaurant formerly known as Downcity Diner gutted a three-story brick building on Weybosset Street yesterday and stubbornly burned throughout the day as fear of collapse forced firefighters to fight the blaze from the outside.

A Fire Department spokeswoman last night said demolition crews were working to take down what was left of the building.

The three-alarm fire, which started about 6:30 a.m. in the kitchen, sent acrid yellow smoke billowing into the morning air and clogged the street with fire trucks and hoses just one block south from where crews filming the movie Underdog had forced the closing of Westminster Street.

Several early passersby thought the fire was actually part of the movie, said security guard Charles Gauthier. Abby Cabral, one of the owners of the eatery at 151 Weybosset St. now known as Downcity Food and Cocktails, said a chef was cooking a brisket for a catering job when the meat apparently caught fire. Flames moved behind the walls and spread through the timbers of the mid-1800s building. The third floor housed a dance studio but the second floor was vacant. No one else was in the building at the time.

By noon, the fire had flared up several times and burned through the roof while firefighters in two aerial ladder trucks continued pouring thousands of gallons of water onto the building.

Providence Fire Chief David Costa said a few firefighters had been hospitalized, one with a strained back and three for observation for “various ailments.”

A partial collapse of the second floor prevented firefighters from entering the building to fight the fire up close.

“The whole building is going to end up being a total loss,” Costa said.

The fire drew dozens of onlookers throughout the day, including Rico Conforti, another owner of Downcity Food and Cocktails, who along with Cabral bought the restaurant about a year ago.

“We’ve had everything happen to us in the first year,” said Conforti, as he watched firefighters wrestle to keep a live hose pointed on the front door. “We’ve been broken into, had a water main break and now this. If we can get through this, what else is there?”

Conforti said the business was insured and he and Cabral will look for a place to relocate.

“We won’t be able to stay here,” he said. “There’s more than six feet of water in the basement.”


From RIHPHC review of Downtown Providence, 1984

Second Universalist Church (1847-1849): Thomas A. Tefft, architect. Romanesque Revival, 3.5 story brick structure with end-gable roof; 20th century storefronts; 2nd story windows infilled, five round-head windows with voussoirs and connecting imposts on third story, centered round-head window with tracery flanked by two lunette windows below datestone in attic; simple corbel cornice; irregular fenestration on Eddy Street elevation.

Built as the Second Universalist Church, the building housed the first private normal school in Providence by 1852, the antecedent of Rhode Island College (a normal school trains teachers). The structure was converted to commercial use later in the 19th century. Significant both as one of the few remaining buildings designed by Thomas A. Tefft, and as a reminder of the generally residential nature of this part of downtown before the Civil War. The Second Universalist building, though heavily altered inside and out, adds architectural variety to the streetscape in a block of vernacular buildings.

Dec 9 2015 I shot this video as I was going to my office in the Fletcher Building (May 2006).

Paul Coletta I have a photograph of my grandfather (Antonio D’Amario) standing in front of his business (Antonio D’Amario Tin Smith) in about 1895 at # 30 Tefft St., with Anthony’s father Vincenzo and his infant son James. I am told that Tefft Street was replaced when Rt. 95 was built. Could you tell me where number 30 would be on today’s map?

Laura I visited this building many times over the past 11 years to attend dance class at Providence Ballet and have many fond memories of it. I loved the space and how it never changed while the city around it did. I can’t believe it’s gone! It will be missed by many.

Brian Varano I was at the Safari Lounge once during my time at RISD sometime before 2004. Was that still located in the rear section at the time of the fire? (No Brian, the Safari was forced to move in October of 2005.)

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