Second Universalist Church

This mid-1800s structure was one the few examples of Providence’s eminent architect Thomas Tefft but burned in 2006.

About this Property

#Reason for Demolition

In the early morning on May 22, 2006, a brisket slow cooking for a catering job at Downcity Diner caught fire. Flames spread from the grill to between the walls. Though the building had an impressive brick exterior, it was a wood framed 1840s structure, therefore the fire spread to the roof quickly. The way the fire spread inside walls made it difficult to battle, and firefighters were not able to fight from the inside because of the threat of collapse.

By mid-afternoon the building was deemed to be a total loss, and the only way to stop the fire was to start to tear into it. Crews brought an emergency crane onto Weybosset street to start to open the roof and walls up further so firefighters could douse what was left. Embers were still burning as the crane ripped into the walls.

Over the next few days and weeks the building was completely torn down and debris removed. A parking lot was put in its place. Downcity Diner moved down Weybosset Street to the only remaining Tefft-designed building in downtown.

#Current Events

A parking lot still occupies this location. As early as 2011 a new covering was added to the party wall of building still standing at 159 Weybosset. Downcity Diner operated out of a location at 45 Weybosset Street from 2007 through around 2012. By 2014 that location was the home of Circe restaurant, which remains (in 2020).

#History

The Safari Lounge, a popular bar/music venue with the Providence underground music scene in the late 90s to early 2000s, was forced to relocate out of its address at 103 Eddy Street in this same building in 2005.

From a Providence Online crossword puzzle, 2012, by John Taraborelli

The Safari Lounge, presided over by its colorful proprietor Jimmy Ilarraza and his pet snake, was one of Downtown’s favorite dives before it closed in 2005. A dispute with the landlord forced Ilarraza to abandon his Eddy Street club.

[A.I.R.: Other accounts mention that the landlord wanted them out so the building could more easily become condos.]

From Downtown Providence Historic District nomination form, 1980

Second Universalist Church (1847-49): Romanesque Revival, 3 1⁄2-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 date stone 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.I.R.: A “normal” school trains teachers. This evolved into the Henry Barnard School at RIC]. The structure was converted to commercial use later in the 19th century and continues thus today. Significant both as one of the few remaining buildings designed by Providence’s eminent mid-l9th-century architect, Thomas A. Tefft, and as a reminder of the generally residential nature of this part of the downtown before the Civil War. The Second Universalist Church building, though heavily altered both inside and out, adds architectural variety to the streetscape in a block of vernacular buildings.

#In the News

Fire Destroys Restaurant

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

by Tom Mooney
Providence Journal | 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.”