Clifford Metal

also known as Northstar Metals, Lifespan Laboratories

A non-descript industrial steel-frame building is coverted to medical laboratory space

About this Property


When researching the origin of Clifford Metals, we could not find too much. The company was a supplier of brass and steel mill products and specialty alloys, mostly rolled raw material. But the way the building was able to be constructed was more interesting.

The Providence Redevelopment Agency (PRA) embarked on an urban renewal plan in the late 50s, around the same time that interstate 95 would cut through the city and route 146 would be constructed. The “West River Industrial Park, Official Redevelopment Plan, July 12, 1956” called for the leveling of 500 buildings on 50 acres, displacing up to 3,000 residents1 in an area then bounded by Charles St. to the south, the Moshassuck river to the east, Branch Ave. to the north, and the Amtrack railroad tracks to the west. It was a massive undertaking, the anchor of which would be a new fully-automated Post Office dubbed the “Turnkey Project.”

The Post Office project would be a success in that it put Providence on the national stage as a testing ground for new technology, but a failure in the technology itself.

Many of the plant’s processing machines were under-used or not used at all. The plant was unable to help the Department reconfigure mail processing in the area. It could barely serve Rhode Island. The building’s employees were not adequately trained to operate the new machines. A scamp tested the machines by mailing a letter posted with a stamp from Tsarist Russia on it and letting the press know after it had succeeded in going through and being delivered. Of course, that inspired others to try similar stunts, and a number of odd stamps entered the U.S. mails through the Providence post office before human eyes were assigned to assist the machines.2

But back to the urban renewal project. Let’s reiterate: 50 acres, 500 buildings, 3,000 residents mostly working class and multi-ethnic, including Irish, Poles, Italians, and African Americans. The people on the edge of society who no doubt helped to make city services run. From Sam Coren’s “Difficult Topographies” again:

The city’s 1946 “Master Plan for Land Use and Population Distribution” declared that new industrial sites should be established “in the valley bottoms on land now largely occupied by bad housing,” a strategy meant to kill two birds with one bulldozer: the flight of industry and the “blight” of low-income, multi-racial neighborhoods. […] To justify the displacement of so many people, the Providence Redevelopment Agency cited the neighborhood’s “difficult topography,” “irregular street pattern,” and “social inadequacy,” that last point referring to higher-than-average rates of tuberculosis, “illegitimate births,” and “general public assistance cases.” […] It took the city five years (1956-1961) to clear the area, fill the old cellar holes, “regroom” the land and sell off the massive new parcels to buyers [… most of whom] would have likely have moved away were it not for the availability of these newly-emptied parcels. With this in mind, the city declared West River Industrial Park a resounding success.

Aerial photo of the West River Industrial Park before the demolition of 500 structures. Photo links to the larger version at the Providence Public Library.

Its an amazing but unsurprising story of a city reducing urban blight with a blowtorch rather than fertilizer and careful pruning. We wonder about the stories of the people who were displaced, their homes, their churches & schools.One of the industrial properties that was removed was the Corliss Steam Engine factory, a monument to the industrial revolution. The former R.I. Tool Company was one of the few in the area saved from demolition.

Current Events

The Lifespan Medical group owns and operates a laboratory facility in this building adjacent to the Lifespan Men’s Health Center to the north at 200 Corliss Street also.


No formal history. The building was erected in 1961 as part of the redevelopment of West River Street.

  1. Coren, Sam. “Difficult Topographies.” Contigent Magazine. 04 May, 2021. Accessed 05 February, 2022. 

  2. Pope, Nancy. “Project Turnkey – Providence, RI.” Smithsonian — National Postal Museum. 22 October, 2018.–-providence-ri. Accessed 05 February, 2022.