Kendrick-Prentice-Tirocchi House

also known as Providence’s Wedding Cake House

An elaborate home decorated with “gingerbread” details and the former workshop of notable designers A. & L. Tirocchi is now a collective-run bed & breakfast & artist residency program

About this Property

#Redevelopment

The redevelopment of this ornate house was complicated by multiple owners, tax credits, and insolvency. Our timeline below aims to simplify the story a bit. All information found through reporting in the Providence Journal.

2001
The work of sisters Anna Tirocchi and Laura Tirocchi Cella was celebrated with an exhibition at the RISD Museum, “From Paris to Providence: Fashion, Art and the Tirocchi Dressmakers’ Shop, 1915-1947.”
April 2010
A buyer is sought to redevelop the deteriorating building and take it off the hands of a California investment group, but “It needs a half million dollars worth of work
January 2011
Community Works Rhode Island purchases the mansion for $210,000 through a foreclosure sale with plans to convert it into five condominium residences — two one-bedroom units, two two-bedroom units and one three-bedroom condo.1
April 2011
A community open house is held. That is how we got our photographs if the crumbling interior.2
2012
Citing “community opposition,” Community Works puts the project on hold.3
March 2014
Community Works Rhode Island wins $197,050 in state historic tax credits for the restoration of this West Side landmark. Plans change slightly under new executive director, Bert Cooper, which call for four units and an owner-occupied plan. The owner’s unit would boast 2800 sf of space and the home would sell for $699,000.4
July 2014
Community Works Rhode Island holds a groundbreaking.5
September 2014
Community Works declares insolvency and merges with Olneyville Housing Corporation, another nonprofit community development agency. The new organization, ONE Neighborhood Builders, will continue the work of community revitalization in Providence’s Olneyville and Elmwood neighborhoods.6
December 2014
The Providence Redevelopment Agency board authorized up to $350,000 to buy the property and grant the Revolving Fund a seven-month option to buy or sell it at the same price. The Revolving Fund agreed to spend up to $100,000 stabilizing the vacant building, which was suffering from roof leaks and the separation of its unique four-story tower from the rest of the structure. Both parties continued to work out a purchase and sales agreement into early 2015. The plan is designed to save the $197,000 earmarked in state historic tax credits.
The organization had secured almost $900,000 in state, federal and local subsidies but the rehab project — estimated to cost between $1.6 and $1.8 million — turned out to be more than Community Works could handle.
In 2014, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development decided that too much public money was tied up in the project and retracted roughly $700,000 in combined federal grants.7
September 2015
The Providence Preservation Society and the West Broadway Neighborhood Association try to raise $25,000 to match a grant received earlier in 2015 from the 1772 Foundation. The Providence Revolving Fund spent all of that $25,000 grant, plus another $5,000, for emergency repairs to the mansion’s tower, which had been leaning about 10 degrees. The work also raised the tower by about 5 inches.8
July 2016
The Providence Redevelopment Agency foreclosed on the iconic Wedding Cake House as the first step in a process intended to clear the title to make it financially possible for a new investor to step in and rehabilitate the property.9
November 2016
The Providence Revolving Fund makes public that an artist collective known as The Dirt Palace has an option to buy the property. Artist Xander Marro said her group hopes to share their plans in January, but prefers to wait to make a public announcement until all the pieces are in place.10
February 2017
The Providence Redevelopment Agency unanimously approved the sale of the Wedding Cake House to The Dirt Palace, an arts group that has been operating for 17 years in Olneyville. Their plans for the house include an artist residency program, short-term overnight stays, private art studios, exhibition space, and arts programming on the grounds.11
May 2019
“Ruffles, Repair, Ritual — The Fine Art of Fixing”: The Wedding Cake House hosts 150 works of art for its grand opening in celebration of the renovations of the historic building, bringing it back to life 150 years after it was built.12

#Current Events

The Dirt Palace at the Wedding Cake House opened in 2019 and rooms are available through AirBnB. Follow the project and see past images of the renovations on their Instagram.

#History

From wiki.PPSri.org (now defunct), for the Ten Most Endangered Properties List nomination

Listed in 2010, 2012, 2015, & 2016

Built in a very elaborate Italianate Style, this house is often referred to as the “Wedding Cake House” as it is Providence’s consummate “gingerbread” house. The Kendrick-Prentice-Tirocchi House was probably built and designed in 1867 by Broadway resident Perez Mason. Built for John Kendrick, a manufacturer of loom harnesses, important to 19th-century textile production, it became the home of buttonhook manufacturer and street-railway tycoon George W. Prentice in the early 1880s. The dress-designing and –making Tirocchi sisters lived here for much of the 20th-century and are the homes most significant occupants.

Anna Tirocchi and Laura Tirocchi Cella operated A. & L. Tirocchi, as dress making shop, in 514 Broadway from 1915 to 1947, catering to wealthy clients, many of whom were wives and daughters of the newly successful industrialists from Providence and Fall River. Their first shop was located in the Butler Exchange Building on Westminster Street from 1911 to 1915. In 1915, Laura married and Anna purchased the house on Broadway, at which time they had already developed their wealthy clientele.

The shop and its owners bridged three socio-cultural groups: their employees (from southern Italy), themselves (from near Rome), and their powerful and wealthy clients. The shop was located on the second and third floors of the house. The third floor served as the workshop where the “girls,” as they were called, fabricated, decorated, beaded, altered, and tailored the clothing to the desires of the clientele. The house also served as the office of Laura’s husband, Dr. Louis J. Cella, an American-born physician.

A. & L. Tirocchi employed women from thriving Italian American families. For these young women, the sewing rooms were “safe areas” where women were sheltered from exploitation and bad behavior and were under the supervision of two female members of their own community.

When Anna Tirocchi died in 1947, Laura Tirocchi Cella wrapped all the shop’s records in tissue paper and carefully put them away. These were not disturbed until 1989 when curators from the RISD Museum were invited by Laura’s son, Dr. Louis J. Cella Jr., inheritor of the house, to make their choice of objects for the Museum. When curators entered the house, it was a time capsule from the 1920s and 1930s, as everything from the shop’s operation lay untouched for over 40 years. Eighteen cubic feet of archival materials were inventoried and acquired by RISD, and two thousand additional objects were given to the University of Rhode Island. Such complete documentation of an historical dressmaking business exists nowhere else in the United States. The Tirocchi collection is an unparalleled resource for understanding many wide-ranging historical issues, including Italian immigration, women as workers and consumers, and the transition from hand production of garments to ready-to-wear clothing.


From the “Broadway-Armory Historic District” National Register nomination form, 1974

514 Broadway John K. Kendrick House (1867) : 2k-story; gabled-hip/- clapboard Italianate villa; with recessed entrance porch surmounted by arcaded loggia and square, 31,-story, corner tower topped with lantern. House, built at cost of approximately $20,000, is exceptional for elaborate and plentiful bracketed ornament encrusting every architectural feature like icing on a wedding cake. (C) Kendrick, owner of Kendrick Loom Harness Company, sold house in early 1880s to George W. Prentice, buttonhole manufacturer and street-railway tycoon.

#In the News

On the Market | “Gingerbread” house needs rescue

by Christine Dunn
Providence Journal | April 11, 2010 (abridged)

Providence’s “consummate ‘gingerbread’ house,” and the home, for most of the 19th century, of noted dress designers Anna and Laura Tirocchi, is in dire need of rescue.

The 1867 house, on the market for $385,000, is owned by a California investment group.

But, “It needs a half million dollars worth of work,” said Clark Schoettle, executive director of the Providence Revolving Fund, a nonprofit preservation group.

“There are holes in the roof, and water is just pouring through the building,” Schoettle said.

[…] The mansion at 514 Broadway “is in many ways the residential climax of the street,” according to the Providence Preservation Society/American Institute of Architects’ “Guide to Providence Architecture” by William McKenzie Woodward. […]

[Greg Micallef, of Olympus Group Real Estate] said although there has been “a lot of interest” in the property, the cost of buying and renovating the house has been a barrier in the current economic climate.

“It is in really rough shape, and it’s so painful, because it’s so beautiful,” said Kari Lang, executive director of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association.

Schoettle said the Revolving Fund is in negotiations to purchase the house to save it from further decay, but although the house has been on and off the market for years, the price has always been “just out of reach of the market.”

Schoettle said although the price has come down, the condition of the building is rapidly deteriorating, making it a “risky” investment.

Because of the holes in the roof, for instance, all of the floors on the third floor, and many on the second floor, are warped and need to be replaced, he said. The tower is leaning in toward the rest of the house, and it may need to be rebuilt.

The house has “some of the finest Victorian interiors I’ve seen,” Schoettle said. “But it’s not going to last much longer … We’re really concerned that it won’t last another year.”

“We think that the most probable sale will be to one of the local organizations that has an appreciation of the property,” Micallef said.

Micallef said he hopes the house is purchased by someone interested in “bringing the property back to its former glory” with a “fitting use — something good for the neighborhood.”

DUNN, CHRISTINE. “On the Market | ‘Gingerbread’ house needs rescue.” Providence Journal (RI), 1 ed., sec. projoHomes, 11 Apr. 2010, p. F1. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/1524238BB723E7E0. Accessed 12 Dec. 2021.

  1. DUNN, CHRISTINE. “Providence mansion to be saved, used as condos.” Providence Journal (RI), All ed., sec. breaking_news, 25 Jan. 2011. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/15242301407BA070. Accessed 12 Dec. 2021. 

  2. DUNN, CHRISTINE. “OPEN HOUSE — Condos slated for landmark mansion.” Providence Journal (RI), 1 ed., sec. projoHomes, 17 Apr. 2011, p. F2. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/152422DF605D1C48. Accessed 12 Dec. 2021. 

  3. GRIMALDI, PAUL. “R.I. Commerce/Consumer Digest.” Providence Journal (RI), 1 ed., sec. News, 4 July 2014, p. MAIN_12. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/15241C47B7786C98. Accessed 12 Dec. 2021. 

  4. DUNN, CHRISTINE. “Providence | Tax credits will help restore landmark.” Providence Journal (RI), 1 ed., sec. News, 26 Feb. 2014, p. RICOVER_01. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/15241E7588D3D3A0. Accessed 12 Dec. 2021. 

  5. “R.I. Commerce/Consumer Digest.” etc… 

  6. “Real Estate Notes.” Providence Journal (RI), sec. RI News, 7 June 2015, p. 2. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/155D1DCC948061F0. Accessed 12 Dec. 2021. 

  7. ANDERSON, PATRICK. “Providence | A special effort to save house.” Providence Journal (RI), 1 ed., sec. News, 15 Feb. 2015, p. MAIN_02. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/153862A642234590. Accessed 12 Dec. 2021. 

  8. Dunn, Christine. “PROVIDENCE Efforts under way to save ‘Wedding Cake House’ — Funds sought to continue repairs to historic mansion.” Providence Journal (RI), sec. RI News, 24 Sept. 2015, p. 3. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/159579E235419350. Accessed 12 Dec. 2021. 

  9. Dunn, Christine. “Providence Agency wins bidding for Wedding Cake House — Providence Redevelopment Agency takes over iconic mansion at foreclosure.” Providence Journal (RI), sec. RI News, 23 July 2016, p. 4. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/15E4E67DA95C5930. Accessed 12 Dec. 2021. 

  10. Dunn, Christine. “Providence Arts group has option to buy mansion — Popularly known as the Wedding Cake House, property has been vacant for years.” Providence Journal (RI), sec. RI News, 9 Nov. 2016, p. 18. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/1608D6EDF7EE3108. Accessed 12 Dec. 2021. 

  11. Dunn, Christine. “Wedding Cake House sale approved.” Providence Journal: Web Edition Articles (RI), sec. News, 22 Feb. 2017. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/163CEDD358B96438. Accessed 12 Dec. 2021. 

  12. “General Interest.” Providence Journal (RI), sec. RI Features, 16 May 2019, p. C4. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/17378B2F388F89B8. Accessed 12 Dec. 2021.