Old Stone Bank, Empire St. Branch

also known as Pell Chafee Performance Center

A classically-inspired former bank with soaring vaulted ceiling finds new life as a performing arts center

About this Property

#Redevelopment

The 50 foot high, vaulted ceiling of this former banking institution was obscured by a normal-height drop ceiling — most likely to save energy costs while still in use as a bank lobby up until the 1990s. Our photos came from touring the space after AS220 held a Fool’s Ball there.

Thanks to Citizens Bank’s gift of its former Empire Street branch, Trinity Rep has created a new first-class theater. Trinity gained an additional stage for its productions and those of sister Rhode Island arts organizations and new work from the Brown University/Trinity Rep graduate programs.

With flexible audience seating for up to 350, the Pell Chafee Performance Center offers advanced technical capabilities, a “satellite” box office, and comfortable amenities for audience and performers, fully accessible and ADA-compliant. DBVW Architects supervised the adaptive reuse of this building. The project won a 2005 Providence Preservation Society Adaptive Reuse Award as well as a 2006 Preserve Rhode Island Merit Award.

#Current Events

The Pell Chafee Performance Center is home to a collaboration between Brown University and Trinity Repertory Theatre for joint MFA performances and education programs.

#History

Old Stone Bank was a popular Rhode Island banking institution founded as a mutual savings bank in 1819. It collapsed in the 1980s after the federal government convinced it to take over two failed savings and loan institutions, but did not support the bank when those failed institutions took Old Stone down with it. In 1992, Old Stone filed a lawsuit against the government alleging breach of contract and were awarded $192 million in 2004, but an appeals court reduced the award to 74.5 million. Its mascot was Fred Flintstone, who would say in commercials “Yabba-dabba-doo, love that Old Stone Bank!” The bank’s ATMs were called “Ready Freddy.”

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

87 Empire Street Old Stone Bank, Empire Street Branch (1929): Howe & Church, assisted by Jackson, Robertson & Adams, architects. Classical Revival, 3-story, granite-and-brick-sheathed, steel-frame building with a fully articulated, stylized triumphal-arch-motif facade; mullioned windows with fan lights fill the arches; and the main entrance is in the lower portion of the central arch. The banking hall has been heavily altered.

Built as a branch of the Old Stone Bank, the successor firm of the Providence Institution for Savings (founded 1819), this building is the visual highlight in a block of simpler early 20th-century commercial blocks.