Fox Point Bathhouse

Falling into disrepair since the 1970s, this once important community center found new use and continues to support the neighborhood and Providence schoolchildren

About this Property

#Redevelopment

Rehabilitation of this relatively small structure came with strong community support. So mush so that the City of Providence pledged $500,000 from the Providence Public Buildings Authority (PPBA) and Ward One Bond Money. School and local leaders, the Providence School Department, Providence Historic District Commission, and councilmen David Segal and Seth Yurdin led the effort to turn a historic eyesore into a community resource. Studio JAED, The S/L/A/M Collaborative, and Gilbane Building Co. oversaw the exterior restoration and created separate spaces for school library and community gatherings inside.

The renovation and reuse of this structure won a Preserve RI and RI Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission award in 2009.

#Current Events

The neighboring Vartian Gregorian public elementary school has connected to the former bath house and uses some of the space as its library. Community meeting space is available on the lower level.

#History

History prepared by Josh Jackson for the Providence Preservation Society

As European immigrants streamed into Providence at the start of the 20th century they found jobs, livelihoods, and community, but generally not running water. Rhode Island’s industrial might may have originated in its powerful rivers, but for many poor immigrant families, not even a trickle made its way to their crowded homes on the East Side.

To mitigate the obvious health dangers associated with the lack of indoor plumbing and encourage frequent bathing, the city of Providence began providing public bathing facilities as early as 1913. In 1926, construction was completed on the Wickenden Street Bath House in Fox Point. The Bath House provided area residents with a way to stay healthy and clean as well as a social center and community meeting place.

Now vacant and derelict, the one-story brick and slate building at 455 Wickenden Street sits directly adjacent to the Vartan Gregorian Elementary school. A 1953 zoning law requiring hot running water in all residential buildings proved the death knell for the bath house, which found use as a library and a storage area until falling into neglect in the 1970s.

Today [circa 2003], the low-profile structure suffers from vandalism, pigeon infestation and a leaky roof, but the building is fundamentally sound and there is a possibility that the structure can somehow be more closely incorporated into the neighboring elementary school or restored to a center of community activity. The Wickenden Bath House made PPS’s Ten Most Endangered List in 1998, 1999 and 2002, but finding a new use for the old building has proved challenging and the bath house is on the list once again in 2003. We hope the current plans to renovate the structure go through.