Industrial Trust Company Building

also known as The Superman Building

The iconic “Superman” building, the tallest in the state, might be close to getting a new life as residential apartments

About this Property

#Current Events

The most iconic building in the capital city, and likely the state, has been vacant for almost ten years. The developer, local leaders, and many politicians have lent their ideas and negotiating powers to try to find a new life, or at least a new tenant, for the structure. Other large companies were wooed — Citizens Bank, Paypal — artist’s reimagined how to use the building, and even demolition was proposed. It looks like, finally, a new deal for a conversion to residential units is close to happening.

As romantic lovers of turn-of-the-century architecture, we really want to see it saved. Residential makes the most sense, as especially in this post-pandemic world, the need for office space may never recover. Further, we have been in the building and it is still lovely. The unique pyramidal set-backs afford a variety of floor plans and amazing views tha sometimes look into the building itself. The upper floors are breathtaking and the lobby is just grand. Our fingers and toes are crossed that a deal will happen.

#Timeline

1791
The root of the Industrial Trust Bank, “The Providence Bank.”, is granted a charter by the General Assembly, becoming the first bank in Rhode Island and the fifth in the United States.1 It was organized by John and Moses Brown. It remained the only bank in Providence until the first decade of the nineteenth century.2 A long history of bank consolidation and renaming is accounted for at RICurrency.com
1869–70
The Atlantic Building is constructed running the block of Exchange St. at 49 Westminster, designed by Alpheus Morse.3
1886
Samuel P. Colt founds the Industrial Trust Company in Providence.4
1892
The Atlantic Building is partially demolished and incorporated into a new Industrial Trust Company Building designed by Stone, Carpenter & Willson. It is expanded again in 1910 and demolished in 1970 for the Hospital Trust Tower.5 It was originally five bays wide at Westminster in 1892 and topped by a copper cornice. The building ran the entire depth of the block along Exchange Street from Westminster to Exchange Place (Kennedy Plaza)6 and was expanded in 1910 to eleven bays wide (see first two postcards).
1925
Construction breaks ground on this high rise tower. It occupies the site of the former Butler Exchange Building, built by businessman Cyrus Butler, which was the regarded as the most beautiful building in Providence at the time. It suffered a devastating fire and was therefore a perfect site for a new modern skyscraper.
1928
The building is completed and tops 428 feet tall.
1951
The Providence National Bank and Union Trust Co. merged, becoming Providence Union National Bank.7
1954
A merger with Industrial Trust Co. results in the name Industrial National Bank.8
1962
The bank was renamed Industrial National Bank of Rhode Island and then in 1968, a one-bank holding company was formed, called Industrial Bancorp Inc.9
1970
Industrial Bancorp’s name was changed to Industrial National Corp. in 1970.10
April 1982
Industrial National Corp., parent company of Industrial National Bank, the state’s largest bank, changes its name on April 14, to “Fleet Financial Group, Inc.”. The bank branches will be known as “Fleet National Bank.”11
December 1982
Construction begins on a new modern tower right next door. Known at the time as “The Fleet Center,” the rose-colored granite building would rise 18 stories and cost $60 million with 390,000 square feet of rentable space.12 Architects were Hellmuth, Obata, & Kassabaum.
1995
Fleet and Shawmut National Bank merge and move to Boston as FleetBoston Financial, but retained ownership of the building.13
1998
FleetBoston is acquired by Bank of America.14
2008
Current owners, High Rock Development out of Boston and headed by David Sweetser, purchases the building for $33 million
2013
Bank of America, the building’s most recent tenant, moved out on April 12, 2013. High Rock would go on to sue BoA for $54 million in damages from deferred maintenance and settle out of court for an undisclosed amount.15
2014
The building first appears on the Providence Preservation Society’s Ten Most Endangered List. Already, at this point, High Rock was circulating plans to convert the building for residential use. It would go on to be listed six more times from 2017 through 2022.16
2016
Local downtown magnate Buff Chace, president and CEO of Cornish Associates, tries to help “Save Superman.” The local public awareness campaign gains meaningful attention as more eyes are on how to reuse the building than ever.17
2017
With an appraised value of “none,”18 developers Joseph Paolino and Bob Gilbane propose to demolish the building in favor of a massive 36-story tower. They pitch Hasbro on the opportunity to be an anchor tenant in the process19, who never publicly weighed in. Many local politicians were for the proposal, while all preservationists and architectural critics were against.20
2022
The State of Rhode Island and High Rock Development reach a deal to convert the former office tower into housing. As the deal uses taxpayer funding, it is not going to go without opposition. This is not a done deal until construction begins, and even then, we won’t fully believe it until we see it completed.

#History

From the National Register nomination form for the Downtown Providence Historic District, prepared by William McKenzie Woodward, Principal Historic Preservation Planner, 1984

55 Kennedy Plaza Industrial Trust Company Building (1928): Walker § Gillette, architects. 26-story, Art Deco, granite-sheathed, steel-frame skyscraper with stepped, pyramidal massing with major setbacks above 15th, 22nd, and 26th stories and a 4-story square lantern on top; 2-story base articulated with stylized classical motifs including colossal round-head window over central entrances on Kennedy Plaza and Westminster Street; original interiors include superb classicizing Art Deco banking hall with Ionic-colonnade screen around the perimeter of the room.

The Industrial Trust Company, founded in 1887, first occupied a building on Westminster Street ((first postcard)[#photo-first-indy-trust-ppl-postcard-01]) remodeled for the bank’s use by Stone, Carpenter & Willson (demolished in the early 1970s). Rapid growth necessitated the large quarters provided by the current structure on the site of the Second Empire style Butler Exchange (1873; Arthur Gilman, architect), which was demolished in 1925 for the present structure. The largest banking institution in the state, Industrial, now Fleet Financial Group, remains a regionally important firm.

The Industrial Trust Building, the only 1920s skyscraper in Providence, is undoubtedly the city’s best-known landmark. Its stepped-back massing and Art Deco detailing relate it closely to contemporary New York skyscrapers, notably the Chrysler Building (1929-32; William Van Alien, architect) and the Empire State Building (1930-31; Shreve, Lamb § Harmon, architects); completed before the construction of either the Chrysler or Empire State Buildings, it is an early and important monument of the style. Its size and unique shape make it readily identifiable from any angle. Its siting is masterful, for as Winston Weisman has observed, a building of this scale needs an “open park-like area of sufficient size to provide a vista.” Kennedy Plaza and Burnside Park furnish this necessary balance (an arrangement which anticipates the spatial organization of high-rise complexes built since) while maintaining an urban feeling.

#In the News

Providence’s Superman building to be redeveloped into mixed-use residential, office, retail space

by Alexa Gagosz
Boston Globe | April 12, 2022 (abridged)

The Superman building, Rhode Island’s tallest structure, may not be vacant for much longer.

The building’s owner, Massachusetts-based High Rock Development, finally made a deal with [the state of] Rhode Island after years of back-and-forth negotiations, Rhode Island Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor confirmed to the Globe on Tuesday. […]

High Rock plans to convert the tower into 285 residential units, 20 percent of which will be reserved for affordable housing. Approximately 8,000 square feet will be used for commercial office space and another 26,000 square feet, where the bank used to be, will be used for “retail, community, and event space.”

Of the affordable units, 10 percent will be for individuals who make up to 120 percent of the area median income (also known as AMI), or $72,650 annually for an individual; 5 percent will be for individuals who make up to 100 percent of AMI, or $60,550; and 5 percent for individuals who make up to 80 percent of AMI, or $48,450. The rest of the units will be market-rate units.

Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza said it is “unprecedented” to have so many affordable housing units in this type of development. He also said this project could help bring a renewed vision for development in the Kennedy Plaza area, with the Plaza going from a bus hub for the state to a gathering spot for the city.

“These new investments will bring new life into this iconic tower,” said Pryor, who also said there is a commitment in place to use 20 percent of contractors from women- and minority-owned businesses.

Prior said the project will cost an estimated $220 million, and will create about 1,500 construction jobs. A spokesman for governor’s office confirmed that there is a tax stabilization agreement, but details have not yet been unveiled. A source close to the mayor’s office in Providence said a TSA would not be submitted on Tuesday, and that agreement would be for 30 years.

In a room full of state and political leaders, housing providers, and members of the press, Pryor also announced that High Rock would also be donating $500,000 over 10 years to Crossroads Rhode Island, one of the largest housing and homelessness service agencies in the state.

High Rock, led by principal David Sweetser, requested more than $48 million in tax assistance from the state. But Pryor said the state agreed to $26 million in tax assistance. Sweetser will also receive about $22 million in federal historic tax credits and will pursue another $2 million in federal new markets tax credits.

The city of Providence will contribute $5 million in grants to the project and a loan of $10 million, which High Rock will have to pay back within 40 years.

The Rhode Island Foundation, led by president and CEO Neil Steinberg, will bridge the state’s financing, said Pryor, but not provide a direct contribution. […]

A plan Sweetser reportedly submitted to the state last summer included more than 280 apartment units, with 10 percent earmarked for affordable housing. That project was estimated to take more than two and a half years and cost over $200 million, sources told the Globe previously.

Captured July 4, 2022 from https://www.bostonglobe.com/2022/04/12/metro/providences-superman-building-wont-be-vacant-much-longer/

  1. RI Currency. “Timeline of Rhode Island Banking.” http://www.ricurrency.com/timeline-of-rhode-island-banking/. Accessed July 6, 2022. 

  2. Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission. “Statewide Historical Preservation Report: Downtown Providence.” 1981. Page 26. Housed at https://preservation.ri.gov/historic-places/rihphc-publications. 

  3. “Alpheus C. Morse.” WikiWand. https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Alpheus_C._Morse. Accessed July 6, 2022. 

  4. RI Currency. “Industrial Trust Company, Providence.” http://www.ricurrency.com/bank-name/industrial-trust-company-providence/. Accessed July 6, 2022. 

  5. “Alpheus C. Morse.” WikiWand. https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Alpheus_C._Morse. Accessed July 6, 2022. 

  6. “Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Providence, Providence County, Rhode Island.” Sanborn Map Company, 1905. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3774pm.g3774pm_g080991904. Accessed July 6, 2022. 

  7. JONES, BRIAN C.. “Year-long search for new name ends with ‘Fleet Financial Group’.” Providence Journal (RI), ALL ed., sec. BUSINESS, 11 Feb. 1982, pp. B-09. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/1525C40876FB4970. Accessed 4 July 2022. 

  8. Ibid. 

  9. Ibid. 

  10. Ibid. 

  11. Ibid. 

  12. “Skyscraper’s name to be Fleet Center.” Providence Journal (RI), ALL ed., sec. NEWS, 5 May 1983, pp. D-04. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/1525C3506729ECB8. Accessed 6 July 2022. 

  13. Wikipedia. “Industrial National Bank Building.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_National_Bank_Building. Accessed July 6, 2022. 

  14. Ibid. 

  15. Ibid. 

  16. “2014 Ten Most Endangered Properties List.” Providence Preservation Society, 2014. Archived version available at https://web.archive.org/web/20140625210034/http://ppsri.org/ten-most-endangered-properties/2014-meplist. Accessed July 6, 2022. 

  17. Gagosz, Alexa. “Providence’s ‘Superman’ building owners could be close to making a deal with state officials.” Boston Globe, February 3, 2022. https://www.bostonglobe.com/2022/02/03/metro/providences-superman-building-owners-could-be-close-making-deal-with-state-officials/. Accessed July 6, 2022. 

  18. Nagle, Kate. “Superman Building Has Zero Value, Appraisal Shows.” GoLocal Providence, September 26, 2014. https://www.golocalprov.com/news/superman-building-has-zero-value-appraisal-shows. Accessed July 6, 2022. 

  19. Fenton, Josh & team. “UPDATED: Plan to Build Hasbro Headquarters in Providence—Demo Superman Building.” GoLocal Providence, December 12, 2017. https://www.golocalprov.com/business/exclusive-plan-to-build-hasbro-headquarters-at-superman-site. Accessed July 6, 2022. 

  20. Fenton, Josh & team. “RI Leaders and Experts React To Hasbro Tower Proposal and Demolition of Superman Building.” GoLocal Providence, December 13, 2017. https://www.golocalprov.com/business/ri-leaders-and-experts-react-to-hasbro-tower-proposal-and-demolition-of-sup. Accessed July 6, 2022.