John E. Fogarty Memorial Building

also known as State Welfare Services, Department of Human Services

A love it or hate it concrete structure in the Brutalist style — its knobby elbows sticking out as decoration

About this Property

#Reason for Demolition

Plans to reuse the shuttered social services complex stretch back to the last years of the Cianci administration after it closed in 1999. Solid plans to convert the site into a hotel were reported as early as 2004, but a new hotel did not move forward for another 12 years. Through a series of redevelopment shuffling from one owner to another, the building suffered neglect. Only a few years after closing its noxious interior air quality made it unsuitable for use. Could it have been mitigated and saved? Of course. Did a developer have enough vision to see past its brutal design aesthetic? Clearly, no.

We have a feeling that looking upon anything built within 30 years is likely to be too soon for it to be appreciated. We see it all the time with old houses when we uncover perfectly preserved wood floors under old and dindgey carpets — the fashion of the time made wood undesirable. Or think about Westminister Street in the 70s when the now-exposed original facades were covered with flat expanses of stone and stucco. We just don’t appreciate some aesthetics until we can get a bit more distance from them. We feel like this was the case with the Fogarty Building.

#Current Events

A Marriott Residence Inn sits at this location, having been completed and open for business only recently in 2020. The $40 million hotel boasts 154 rooms, each with a kitchenette, right across from the Convention Center with parking in the Convention Center garage. The Procaccianti Group of Cranston was the developer on the project.

#History as a Eulogy

The John E. Fogarty Memorial Building, of 111 Fountain Street, Providence, passed away on Monday, March 13 after a protracted and debilitating illness. It was 49 years old and was the beloved child of the Rhode Island architecture firm Castellucci, Galli & Planka Associates. Sadly, the firm lost their exuberant geodesic dome, the Maintenance Facility Vehicle Shelter at T.F. Green Airport, only last year, to disassembly and storage.

At birth, the Fogarty served the Department of Human Services; it was later leased to the state’s Department of Human Resources. Between 1999 and 2003, the Fogarty was used sporadically by the Department of Education. That year, hundreds of students were evacuated from the building due to breathing problems and since then, it has been vacant. In 2005, it was purchased by the Procaccianti Group.

As a young building, the Fogarty was part of an enthusiastic family of Brutalist government buildings that expressed the energy and confidence of Lyndon Johnson’s 1960s Great Society programs. To its neighbors, the building could be difficult, challenging – abrasive, even. It had a strong personality and was not always easy to engage with. Those who loved the Fogarty valued its strong sculptural form and the texture of its reinforced concrete, which looked like molded sand up close, while those who felt less love for it saw the building as ugly, rough and imposing.

Other members of the Brutalist family predeceased the Fogarty building, including cousins like Paul Rudolph’s Orange County Government Building (d. 2015) and John Johansen’s Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in Baltimore (d. 2015). Some relatives are on life-support, their future uncertain. A lucky few have found a new lease on life through sensitive renovation, including Marcel Breuer’s old Whitney Museum, Paul Rudolph’s Yale Art and Architecture Building in New Haven and – closer to the Fogarty’s old stomping grounds – Boston’s City Hall and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth campus (another Rudolph creation).

Jana Planka, the daughter of one of the Fogarty’s lead architects, H. Michael Planka, remembers her father’s excitement about designing the building: “He was a very progressive man and was looking to do something different and a little left of center – he was looking to break the mold.” Its baby pictures reveal an energy and sense of confidence that jibe with the era’s muscle cars – the Ford Mustang, Chevy Camaro, and Plymouth Road Runner. But the world changed around it, and tastes changed and by the 21st century, the Fogarty had few friends left. The death knell sounded a couple of weeks ago on March 1, 2017, when the replacement building’s permit was issued.

Who are the Fogarty’s heirs? What inheritance does it leave? For a new generation of architects and architecture fans, some aspects of Brutalism are in favor again, such as a new interest in texture; in industrial materials, roughly handled; and in sculptural forms that can be achieved by molding concrete.

For those of us who live in Providence, and love Providence, the Fogarty was always a formidable building. Even in death, it remains so. Demolition began on Monday, March 13 and at the end of the day, one corner of the building had succumbed, leaving a gaping hole. The steel bars known as rebar that “reinforce” the sand and stone that make up concrete were left exposed and deformed, having been cut through by the nearby excavator. But some sense of strength remained: Daniel Govoni, a project manager with Northstar Project and Real Estate Services, was quoted in the Providence Journal on March 9, saying “The bones of the building, they’re still intact.” No longer. RIP.

Authors: Marisa Angell Brown, Assistant Director of Programs at the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage Brown University; Steve Lubar of Brown University; and Caroline Stevens, Director of Doors Open Rhode Island.

#In the News

City eyesore may soon be all-suites hotel

Plans call for a $50-million, 250-room hotel at the site of the Fogarty Building on Sabin Street.

by Gregory Smith
Providence Journal | April 21, 2004 (abridged)

The Providence Redevelopment Agency is moving closer to a deal with developer Vincent J. Mesolella Jr. for the construction of a 13-story hotel on the site of the Fogarty Building.

Eager to see a taxable project at the site of the agency-owned building downtown, city officials have asked Mesolella to submit a tentative purchase-and-sale agreement that would lead to the developer’s acquisition of the site.

Mesolella told the Redevelopment Agency board of directors Monday that he would do that. Submission of a tentative purchase-and-sale agreement would commence negotiation of the terms of a final deal.

At the agency meeting, Mesolella reacquainted the directors with the proposed design of a scaled-back $48-million to $50-million hotel project at the site.

The existing vacant building would be razed to make way for a 250-room all-suites hotel on Sabin Street across from the Rhode Island Convention Center. The hotel would be connected to the Convention Center by a footbridge and would have dedicated parking for 240 cars in the Convention Center garage.

The scaled-back design is the same Mesolella originally advanced for the site, before he became enamored of a more ambitious undertaking with additional rooms and amenities that he negotiated with the Convention Center Authority.

The authority would prefer to have more rooms and amenities to suit its convention-goers, and to have as close an association with the hotel as possible in order to get guaranteed blocks of rooms at the times and the prices it would like.

The more ambitious project called for nearly 400 rooms in a 21-story building, a $65-million price tag, and a heavy investment by the state, which would have become majority owner. Governor Carcieri killed it last year because he is opposed to state financing of a hotel.

Mesolella, a former state representative who has maintained his friendships in the General Assembly, is now asking for $15 million in financing from state government. The state would issue bonds that would be paid off with the proceeds from the project.

“There’s significant support for this project [financing] in the legislature, especially among the Providence legislators,” Mesolella told the Redevelopment Agency directors.

[…] If the project is a good business proposition, the governor says, a developer should be able to get private financing. If it is not a good proposition, then the state should not risk it either, his argument goes.

[…] For a couple of years Mesolella has been the “designated developer” of the site, meaning, that the agency gave him an option to build a hotel there. But progress was stymied as he fought unsuccessfully at the State House for the more ambitious project.

[…] Mesolella will need demolition approval from the city Historic District Commission, design approval of the hotel building from the Downcity District Design Review Committee, and a waiver of the building height limit from the Zoning Board of Review.

[…] The Redevelopment Agency owns the Fogarty Building, having bought it from the city in the financial preparations that were made for the construction of the Public Safety Complex.

The Fogarty Building is part of the collateral that the agency pledged for the borrowing that was done to build the Public Safety Complex, according to city Finance Director Alex Prignano.

At the time of the agency’s purchase from the city, the administration of Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. thought the Fogarty Building might have to serve as an interim police headquarters.

There was a package deal between Mesolella and Cianci in which Mesolella and a partner agreed to build the Public Safety Complex and a luxury hotel on the site of what was then the police-fire headquarters at LaSalle Square.

In order to clear the way for the hotel project, the Cianci administration thought it would have to temporarily relocate police headquarters to the Fogarty Building while the Public Safety Complex was under construction.

As it turned out, Mesolella lost both his potential hotel franchise agreement and his financing for a hotel at the headquarters site, and the Fogarty Building was not needed.

The Fogarty Building is valued at $2,965,570 and the land at $1,353,630, for a total of $4,319,200, according to the company revaluing Providence’s real estate.

If Mesolella’s project comes to fruition, Prignano said yesterday, the proceeds of the sale of the site would be expected to be used to reduce the debt on the borrowing for the Public Safety Complex.