Providence Fruit & Produce Warehouse Company

also known as Providence Fruit Warehouse, Tourtellot & Co., Feinberg & Co.

A long, low slung industrial building west of the highway and in the shadow of the Providence Place Mall. Neglect over ten years as well as some nefarious local dealings took the building down.

About this Property

#Reason for Demolition

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 — the Provisions Warehouse 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 could have redeveloped the structurally sound but completely unfinished and vagrant-infested Masonic Temple, why not this building?

#In the News

February 2019 — The Shops at Providence Place LLC (an LLC registered by the Carpionato Group) has proposed a 353 unit residential building with 572 parking spaces at the site of the dearly departed Providence Fruit & Produce Warehouse. This is basically a redux of their proposal from late 2016 dubbed, One Hundred Harris at Providence Place. That prior proposal was larger with 459 residential units and a whopping 776 parking spaces. – Greater City Providence

#Timeline of Events

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, 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
“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.” (Providence Journal, April 11)
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. (Renderings in our image gallery)
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)

#History

From the National Register Nomination Form, Edward Connors, 2004

The Providence Fruit and Produce Warehouse Company Building (PFPWC) is a long, two-story, flat-roofed vaguely Art Moderne industrial building, built of reinforced concrete and brick. It is located on a 4-acre lot in the former provisions warehouse district north of downtown Providence. This parcel, fronting on Harris Avenue, faces the Woonasquatucket River to the immediate west of Interstate Route 95 and north of the tracks of the former New York New Haven and Hartford Railroad.

The structural system consists of a reinforced-concrete skeleton, finished with red brick. The grid-like structure of the building is evident on the exterior, with intersecting cast-concrete piers and lintels framing the nonstructural red brick knee walls and banks of metal awning windows. Loading docks attached to the north and south elevations have poured concrete and fill foundations topped by a slab concrete floor. The loading docks are covered with a flat, steel-framed canopy, which is held in place by steel rods attached to the vertical concrete piers that divide the bays of the building.

This immense, horizontal building was originally 965 ft. long but lost several bays and a railway tower at the east end during the construction of an Interstate 95 ramp built in the 1980s. As a result, the east elevation of the building was sealed with concrete blocks. In all, 64 of the building’s original 71 bays survive. The flat roofline on the north and south elevations is interrupted every 10 to 11 bays with a raised, stepped parapet that tops a three-bay section of alternating concrete piers and metal awning windows. The parapets at the west end of the building wrap around the corners to the west elevation. The section of the building removed on the east end was similar to that of the west. Slightly projecting piers with pointed tops divide the bays. Pavilion-like clusters of four more closely spaced piers capped with stepped parapets punctuate the north and south elevations and bolster the northwest and southwest corners.

Bays not under parapets contain a ribbon of metal awning windows and a red brick kneewall in the second story. The first stories of those bays contain similar ribbons of windows above two loading bay openings. Most of the loading bays have their original side-hinged, double metal doors with three light windows behind protective wire mesh. Twenty square, red brick elevator shafts with nine light metal windows on each side rise above the south elevation of the building. A prominent brick chimney stack near the center of the building is also visible from that elevation.

The interior of the building consists predominantly of large, open rooms divided by concrete block partition walls. Wood-frame cashier’s offices were found in some units. Historically, the walls were constructed to enclose space required by the businesses operating out of the units. The dominant architectural features of the interior are the large reinforced concrete mushroom columns that support the first and second floors and the roof. The floors are reached by at least one freight elevator on the south wall of each unit and a set of metal, scissor staircases at the northwest comer. The concrete basement walls are covered with cork, which served as insulation for cooling with circulating water refrigeration systems that were optional to each tenant in the building. A tunnel, which runs under the south loading platform, supplies access to utility lines, drains for the cooling systems, and, at one time, access under Harris Avenue to the Merchants’ Cold Storage Warehouse demolished 1998. A boiler, which served as the heating plant for the building, is located in the basement.