Pawtucket & Central Falls Train Station

A beaux-arts beauty of a train station decays twenty-one feet over the tracks on the city line between Pawtucket and Central Falls

About this Property

#Last Tenant

After its closing in 1959, this large station bounded by Broad, Barton, Clay, and Montgomery Streets remained vacant until Albert J. Vitali, Jr. and a partner as A & B Realty purchased it in 1972. They planned a new residential tower project called Metro Towers in 1978, but it never materialized. Instead, it slowly decayed and was partially used as commercial space and a flea market until about 2005.

In 2005 it was purchased after the passing of Albert Vitale, Jr. by Oscar W. Seelbinder. The corner of the property at Broad and Clay Streets was redeveloped for a CVS. Part of the development of that project called for the demolition of the former one-story baggage area on the building. The demolition was approved by Central Falls but the City of Pawtucket ceased it after a court order.

Redevelopment

Since then, many ideas have come and gone. Local students have studied the station and the feasibility of creating farmer’s markets and community spaces out of it. The State and Amtrack have studied opening it back up as a commuter rail stop — though the plans never intended to reuse the station itself, merely a platform.

Keeping the station as a rail stop still seems to be the strongest choice, as the building literally sits above the tracks and any effort to remove it would be highly expensive. In 2016, the state won a $13-million federal grant to kickstart a new rail project, and Pawtucket and Central Falls committed $3 million. A new rail stop has been projected to cost $40 million but as recently as 2019, that cost has been updated to over $50 million.

Trains are projected to start stopping at the station again in July, 2022.

#History

From a report prepared by Public Archeology Lab, 1999, RIHRA No. PAWT-OO1

Significance

The Pawtucket-Central Falls Railroad Station is an example of early twentieth century railroad station design. Built in 1915 and opened in 1916, the station was the result of a decades-long debate as to how to eliminate the many dangerous at-grade crossings in the adjoining cities of Pawtucket and Central Falls. This was a period when these two cities were at their peak of industrial and population growth, and the railroad was the primary form of transport for both passengers and merchandise. […]

[…] As both Pawtucket and Central Falls continued to grow, the incidence of accidents at these crossings increased. The solution was to depress the railroad tracks below ground surface, but initial attempts to remedy this situation, beginning in the late nineteenth century, were thwarted by competition between Central Falls and Pawtucket. Central Falls was fiercely jealous of its own independence, wishing to have its own depot. However, the New Haven Railroad did not want to build two stations so close to each other. Debate continued for approximately two decades with numerous proposals submitted for various routings, grade changes. etc. In 1912 the Rhode Island General Assembly ordered the Governor to appoint a Pawtucket and Central Falls Grade Crossing Commission made up of one representative from each city and the railroad to resolve the conflict. This commission submitted a plan in September 1912 for relocation and realignment of the tracks and construction of a single railroad station to serve both Pawtucket and Central Falls.

The station was designed by F.W. Mellor. architect for the New Haven Railroad. Norcross Brothers of Worcester erected the building over structural steel erected by Levering and Garrigues of New York. The retaining walls were constructed by C.W. Blakeslee and Sons of New Haven who also served as general contractors for all masonry work and street changes. The grade separation required the construction of eight highway and one foot bridge. The American Bridge Company erected the Conant and Dexter Street bridges, and the other steel bridges were erected by the Boston Bridge Works. The grade separation, relocation, and station cost $2,500,000. The cost for the station was $325,000. The cities paid 35 percent of the cost, and the railroad carried the remaining 65 percent.

More about the Significance & Architecture

It could be argued that the cities of Central Falls and Pawtucket received a more imposing station than was warranted. Train traffic though the station was local only. Any traveler to places beyond Boston, Worcester. Franklin, Plymouth, or Providence had to change trains in Providence. Regardless, the station was an immediate success upon opening. Some 155 trains a day passed through Pawtucket at that time with no fewer than 140 stopping at the new station. Seventy thousand departures a month was considered average for the Pawtucket station then, with the bulk of the passengers traveling to and from Providence. Business at the station boomed until the Great Depression of the 1930s, and picked up again during World War II. The end of gasoline rationing after the war, however, doomed the railroad’s passenger service, and the ticket office was closed in 1959. The following year the building was locked. Nine trains continued to provide service to Boston in 1969 when the New Haven Railroad was absorbed by Penn Central. All service ended in 1970. Today only three tracks pass under the station, two for Amtrak and one for the Providence & Worcester.

In 1972 the building was purchased by A & B Realty. Numerous plans have been proposed for alternate uses of the station, however, none have materialized. The current owner operated a flea market out of the building for many years. The station is now vacant.

Architecture

[…] In its overall form, the station is a U-shaped structure roughly 157 feet long (north to south) and 159 feet wide (east to west) straddling the tracks. The steel-frame structure with brick masonry exterior walls accented by heavy cast-stone (concrete) trim is comprised of five major parts: a tall, main concourse block; two smaller entrance/lobby blocks, one at each end of the concourse block; and two, lower service wings, extending northward from the lobby blocks along either side of the railway cut. The station is treated in a modest interpretation of Beaux Arts classicism with a clear articulation of its several building parts. The building possesses massive, round-headed window openings or blind arches separated by projecting pilasters. Metal and glass marquees provided shelter for the two main entrances into the eastern and western lobby blocks. The western entrance, in Central Falls, was embellished with two cast stone cartouches, one bearing the initials “CF” and the other the initial “P”. […]

Interior

The exterior of the building does not accurately convey its size. as the interior of the station was laid out over several elevations. The main floor of the station was depressed eight feet below the street elevation and was accessed via 20-foot-wide marble staircases from the lobbies at both entrances. The building’s interior was dominated by the expansive, open hall (which served as the waiting room) that measured 96 feet long by 64 feet wide and 30 feet high. The floor was finished with “Welsh” quarry tile. The walls were decorated with a combination of wainscot of Italian Botticino marble and Caen stone plaster. Above the wainscot the walls were paneled with arches corresponding to windows. The columns separating the arches were decorated with shields bearing painted scenes depicting locomotives and other rail road motifs. The staircase entrances were outlined with Vienna marble.

The barrel-vaulted ceiling was highly ornamented. It joined the walls 25 feet above the floor and rose in a gradual arch to 30 feet at its highest point. The central portion of the ceiling contained three large ornamental leaded skylights bearing the official seals of the two cities and the state. The 1000-square-foot skylight provided illumination below during the day. At night, clusters of light bulbs in translucent urns suspended from the ceiling on brass chains provided light.

[…] Eight large, oaken, double benches provided seating. The ticket office was located along the northern side of the waiting room. Five ticket windows were fronted with bronze grill work. A marble ledge beneath the windows separated them from bronze racks for packages.

Beneath the lobbies were various rooms providing a number of services for passengers, including a restaurant, barber shop, men’s and women’s waiting/restrooms, telephone and telegraph, and a newspaper booth. Separate passageways along the north and south end of the waiting room allowed access the railroad tracks. The southern passageway also allowed direct access to the street. […]

The interior of the structure has also suffered from abandonment and neglect. Many of the stylistic embellishments that made the Pawtucket-Central Falls Railroad Station singularly impressive are gone. Those that remain are severely damaged. Many of the marble treads on each of the staircases have been removed. Only remnants of the marble wainscot remain and the stone plaster has been completely removed exposing the brick underneath which in turn has been painted. The highly ornamental barrel-vaulted ceiling has been stripped, exposing the steel skeleton. The massive skylight remains but is damaged, exposing the interior to the elements.

#In the News

Pawtucket station cost climbs to $51M

By Patrick Anderson
Providence Journal | August 26, 2019 (abridged)

The price tag on the planned Pawtucket commuter rail station has climbed past $50 million despite the design being slimmed down a year ago to save money.

In fact, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation says, costs have risen — from an initial estimate of $40 million to $51 million — partly because of the decision made last year to forgo building a separate set of tracks for the new station and instead construct it directly on the busy Northeast Corridor tracks.

Amtrak’s safety rules for the Northeast Corridor have forced station work to be done at night and at other times of light traffic, which apparently wasn’t anticipated and has increased costs, DOT spokesman Charles St. Martin said Monday.

Although last year, Stephen Devine, the DOT’s head of rail and transit projects, said eliminating the second set of tracks from the station was done to save money and keep the project cost at $40 million, Charles St. Martin recast the change as an “upgrade” that could help the MBTA switch from diesel to electric trains and help Gov. Gina Raimondo’s push to establish express rail service between Providence and Boston. […]

Captured January 24, 2021, from https://www.providencejournal.com/news/20190826/pawtucket-station-cost-climbs-to-51m

Train Station Spared As Part Of Store Deal

By John Castellucci
Providence Journal | March 21, 2007

A compromise has been reached that will allow a CVS drugstore to be built without tearing down part of the Pawtucket-Central Falls train station. The compromise will leave the historic train station “intact and undisturbed,” said Oscar W. Seelbinder, the drugstore’s developer.

It involves abandoning part of Broad Street and using the land to provide parking for the drugstore, which is being developed on the Central Falls side of the 3.4-acre site. The compromise announced yesterday still requires the approval of the Pawtucket City Council and the Central Falls Zoning Commission.

Nevertheless, the mayors of both cities hailed the agreement, which breaks the deadlock that arose in December, when Seelbinder began razing part of the train station, and Pawtucket city officials obtained a court order forcing him to stop.

Mayor James E. Doyle said the key to the compromise was getting CVS officials involved in negotiations between his administration, the developer and the City of Central Falls. “Our goal from the beginning was SOS — Save Our Station. And it’s ‘mission accomplished,’ ” Doyle said.

Central Falls Mayor Charles D. Moreau said he hopes the compromise will restore the train station as a bustling transportation hub and eliminate an eyesore that has existed for 47 years.

In 1972, when the Penn Central Railroad went bankrupt, the late Albert J. Vitali Jr. and a partner purchased the property. Six years later, they announced a major redevelopment of the site. But the so-called Metro Towers project never went forward. Vitali used the station building to house a flea market. By 2005, when Seelbinder bought it from Vitali’s widow, Jean, the building was a ruin.

Seelbinder has said repeatedly he supports the plans to restore commuter rail service to the site. But his drugstore proposal initially involved tearing down the northwest wing of the train station and removing part of the façade.

The proposal had the support of the Moreau administration in Central Falls, which saw the drugstore as a boost to the neighborhood and a much-needed source of tax revenue. But Pawtucket city officials, historic preservationists and the influential Pawtucket Foundation were up in arms. Efforts were made to work out a compromise. They weren’t productive until Doyle got Governor Carcieri to contact Thomas Ryan, chief executive of the drugstore chain, and persuade him to intervene.

In December, two CVS officials, Dino M. DeThomas and Robert Nault, met with Doyle in his City Hall office. By mid-January, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, an engineering company hired by CVS, had developed the broad outlines of the plan to save the train station by narrowing Broad Street and using the land to provide parking for CVS. The new 12,000-square-foot pharmacy is expected to open early next year.