Pawtucket City Hall

An art deco jewel along the Blackstone River is decaying from water infiltration and exorbitant repair costs

About this Property

Current Events

Pawtucket City Hall is suffering from water leaks in and around the tall art deco tower. The tower has been plagued with problems that seem to reoccur every ten years. In 2015, an architect recommended $2.5 million in repairs to the structure. They also said that removal of the tower would cost around the same.1

As recent as 2006, however, was another project to repair the tower. The 2005-2006 reconstruction of the tower by NER Construction Management provided only a 12-month warranty and cost up to $3 million, funded by a voter-approved bond.2 Some residents were angry about the warranty period and were upset to be in the same situation 10 years later. Only a year later, in 2007, an unusually wet spring revealed a leak in the roof around the tower again. A new contractor was paid $4,000 to find and repair any additional leaks they could find.3

The architect told reporters:

The original design of the steel and brick towers is a poor one […]. Internal steel structures are relatively flexible and can move during wind events. The brick is less flexible and cracks if movement is too great. Steel also expands and contracts much more than brick when the temperature changes. Brick masonry expands due to water infiltration, while steel does not.4

The tower is empty on the inside, and therefore considered decoration. The tower has always seemed to be a beautiful but dangerous landmark. It deterioration started as early as 1974 when one of the ornamental eagles on the corners of the tower fell off. Bricks have been known to come loose and hit the sidewalk in front. For this reason, many are seriously considering removing the tower or abandoning the building altogether.

Still, many feel that if the landmark were removed, it would be sign of Pawtucket’s decline, right when the City is investing heavily in a rebirth centered around a new riverfront soccer stadium and riverfront revitalization project. The style of City Hall and the tower is unique in the area, and along with the Armory, Slater Mill, Lebanon Mill across the river, and Shea High School, show an important evolution in architecture from the early 1800s into the 1930s.

In January 2024, City Hall offices moved to an industrial location on Freight Street in the Darlington section of the city. The City later purchased the facility for $14.8 million. The council voted 7-1, with one opposed saying “it’s an ‘enormous amount of money’ and he believes the council has an obligation to get a separate appraisal.” Director of Administration Dylan Zelazo said the purchase “has nothing to do with the long-term plan for City Hall.”5


From the National Register nomination form, 1982

Pawtucket City Hall, a striking Art Deco landmark of the 1930s, is located on the western bank of the Blackstone River on the northern fringe of Pawtucket’s downtown core. To its south and west stretch the broad, asphalted parking lots created by the Slater Urban Renewal Project of the 1960s; to its north, a tiny, terraced lawn with an unusual clamshell fountain separates the building from Exchange Street; behind the building to the east runs a placid stretch of the Blackstone River, beyond which lies a turn-of-the-century mill complete.

A prominent Pawtucket landmark in the Art Deco style of the 1930s, the City Hall building is formally (and functionally) composed of three distinct segments: a four-and-a-half-story main block, 182 feet long by 62 feet wide, with a low-pitched curb roof, running north-south parallel to Roosevelt Avenue and culminating in a 209 foot high central tower; and two short, flat-roofed wings, two- and two-and-a-half stories high, each wing measuring 51 feet by 90 feet deep, and running east-west across the narrow ends of the long main block. (The northern wing contains the Fire Department headquarters, the southern wing, Police Department headquarters.) The entire building is of steel-framed, fireproof construction. Exterior walls are infilled with cinder block, faced with a pale yellow brick, and accented by large quantities of cast-stone ornamental trim. Green Roman tiles originally covered all of the visible roof slopes; surviving tiles have now been consolidated on the prominent western slopes while the eastern roofs have been recovered with green asphalt shingles.

The facade of the main block is organized in a basically classical manner the ground and first stories acting as an architectural basement and the second and third stories united by pilasters between each bay. The building’s three central bays break slightly forward of the remainder of the main block and this pavilion is capped with a flat-roofed attic story — an effective visual base for the stepped-back tower behind. The principal entrance into the city hall is located on the first floor of this projecting central pavilion — the original revolving door was replaced by conventional steel and glass swinging doors in the early 1960s. Fenestration is balanced, if not absolutely symmetrical, and the windows are filled with custom-de signed, double-hung sash.; each sash subdivided by either two or four vertical muntins. Three ornamental metal balconies of crisply geometrical design are used to emphasize the break between the upper stories and the “basement” on the pavilion and the two flanking wings; a smaller balcony repeats this theme over the doorway to the southern (Police Headquarters) wing. A dozen cast-stone bas-relief panels, located just below the first-floor windows in the western facade, illustrate some of the people, buildings, scenes, and events important to the city’s history.

The landmark central tower, stepped back at the top and capped with an unusual tomahawk weathervane, originally bore elaborate cast-stone ornamentation on its upper stages eagles leaned out from each corner below the (originally) open belfry, others were stretched across each face of the belfry stage. This cast-stone ornament was allowed to deteriorate, though, and one corner eagle actually fell from the tower in 1974. The present, plain yellow brick casing replaced all of the remaining cast-stone tower-top ornament at that time.

Inside the building, the principal entrance opens into a split-level lobby, across which is found the building’s major staircase–an open-well arrangement serving the four principal floors, the basement and the attic. Adjoining it on the northern side of the lobby is a small passenger elevator. Broad corridors down the spine of the main block at each floor level serve the offices, conference rooms, etc. which line the building’s perimeter. The interior of the tower remains unfinished above the attic floor level.

The most highly finished spaces within the City Hall are the lobby, the Mayor’s Office, the Tenth District Courtroom, and the City Council Chamber. The lobby is finished in marble — yellow Boeticino wall panels are set off by mottled grey and black pilasters cut with a very flat reeding; the floor is composed of Tennessee blue and Vermont gray marble slabs. Embedded in the center of the lobby floor is a low-relief, nickel and chromium-nickel medallion some 40 inches in diameter, modeled after the Pawtucket City Seal. On the exposed soffits of the two staircase runs leading to the second floor are two Art Deco sculptural panels in low relief — “Achievement” on the left, “Activity” on the right. The Mayor’s Office, the Courtroom, and the Council Chamber are all paneled in American walnut and have reeded wooden pilasters echoing their marble counterparts in the lobby. The lesser spaces throughout the building are simply finished with plastered walls,

Plastered ceilings; are used throughout the building; those in the more important spaces are generally developed into a series of shallow, sunken panels. Stylized Art Deco moldings, picked out in glossy aluminum leaf, are used as an occasional ornamental accent within these panelled ceilings. Hardware throughout the building is of Art Deco design, much of it executed in chromium. The light fixtures, in addition, are similarly Art Deco in inspiration and were specifically designed for the City Hall by its architect, a not uncommon practice in the 1930s.

Alterations to the original building beyond those mentioned above include the partitioning of the original ground floor auditorium into additional city offices in the late 1940s, and the 1970s expansion of the mayor’s suite of offices into the northeast corner of the Tenth District Courtroom.

National Register nomination form, Pawtucket City Hall

In the News

Water again breaches City Hall tower as advocates urge saving it

by Ethan Shorey
Valley Breezel | December 20, 2023 (abridged)

Illustrating everything wrong with City Hall’s porous tower, the structure leaked like a sieve again during Monday’s wet and windy weather, forcing an early closure and the postponement of a nighttime City Council meeting and Municipal Court proceedings. […]

Also this evening, the City Council’s property subcommittee will take a tour of 100 Freight St., a property targeted for a temporary City Hall as leaders determine what to do with the longtime city headquarters on Roosevelt Avenue.

Director of Administration Dylan Zelazo said the administration plans to have a proposed lease to own and purchase provisions to the council for the Freight Street property after Jan. 1.

The Breeze previously reported that the cost of repairing just City Hall’s tower is estimated at $22 million, and the cost of turning the 1930s building into a modern facility, including the tower restoration, could reach close to $100 million.

Once again in Pawtucket, this is shaping up to be a debate over the value of historic preservation stacked up against modern municipal needs.

“There are many of us who are deeply committed to a wise preservation of this unique building, a monument to civic life from the very start of the all-important Works Progress Administration period,” said Judith Tolnick Champa for the committee. “We are also sensitive to the prolonged disrepair the building has suffered by neglect. All buildings need attention, and perhaps especially those on the National Historic Register housing municipal governments.” […]

Accessed 09 March 2024 from

Costs for Pawtucket City Hall tower nearly five times what voters approved

by Ethan Shorey
Valley Breezel | November 21, 2023 (abridged)

New estimates peg the rehabilitation of the Pawtucket City Hall tower at $22 million, a number that seemingly helps call into serious question the future viability of the building as a municipally-run center of business.

According to a letter from Downes Construction Company, which is up for discussion by the City Council this week, the projected cost would be for exterior renovation of the tower only.

“Completing the work while the building is fully occupied and open to the public presents extreme safety problems,” wrote David Patrick, president of the company. “To protect the occupants and the public while completing the construction, extensive monies will be spent on safety/fall protection.” […]

The Breeze reported in August that the cost of the tower project, tabbed at around $5 million back in 2021, or about what voters approved for its replacement in 2016, would likely be going much higher, with bids set to be accepted this fall.

Scaffolding has been in place in both the front and rear of the building to protect people who are entering the facility from potentially being hit by falling bricks if they pull away from the façade.

City Councilor Mark Wildenhain, head of the council’s finance subcommittee, told The Breeze Sunday that it seems to be about time to say goodbye to City Hall. Water continues to enter the building, shutting down operations on the fourth floor, he said, and employees shouldn’t have to work in the resulting moldy conditions.

“We’re probably going to end up getting sued if we don’t get out of that place,” he said. “I understand a lot of people have historical value for that place, but if it doesn’t serve a useful purpose, and it’s making people sick, we should probably be looking at a different site.”

“I can’t see spending $22 million,” he added, noting how historic preservation standards don’t allow the city to do anything but restore the tower to exactly as it looks. “The water is just destroying the building.”

Members of the city clerk’s office should not have to be in conditions where it rains inside every time the weather is bad outside, said Wildenhain. Inside fixes have been estimated at some $40 million. […]

The city has “so many ducks in the water right now” on various buildings, said Wildenhain, that it’s a real challenge to plan out how it should all unfold. The unified high school and soccer stadium are big ones, he said, and officials remain adamant that surrounding development has to be part of the stadium project to truly revitalize the riverfront.

Adding further fuel to the idea that City Hall could be moved to a permanent new location, the city has allocated substantial money toward a future new public safety complex. That building would be intended to absorb the police and fire departments currently located at either end of City Hall.

The Breeze first reported in 2012 how the 108-foot tower, first built in the 1930s, has no functional use and had sprung more leaks shortly after a 2005-2006 reconstruction project that ended up costing taxpayers some $4.5 million with borrowing interest factored in.

A representative from the contractor told The Breeze in 2012 that their work in 2005-2006 was never going to keep the tower’s brick facade from continuing to crack due to expanding and contracting steel. Officials expressed frustration when they learned that they only had one year after that project to hold the company accountable.

The Breeze reported in May of 2021 that officials had decided on a full restoration of the troublesome tower. As reported then, the work would include removing the facade and creating a layer inside and against the tower’s steel columns. An interior layer would prevent the infiltration of water going forward.

Accessed 09 March 2024 from

  1. Shorey, Ethan. “Study recommends millions more in repairs for Pawtucket City Hall tower.” Valley Breeze, 22 September 2015. Accessed 09 March 2024 from 

  2. Ibid. 

  3. Castellucci, John. “Hope is, that when it rains it won’t pour at City Hall - Officials keep fingers crossed that leaks are fixed.” Providence Journal (RI), North ed., sec. News, 18 May 2007, pp. D-01. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 9 Mar. 2024. 

  4. “Study recommends millions more in repairs…” 

  5. Shorey, Ethan. “Freight Street property purchase hailed as prudent investment.” Valley Breeze, 07 February 2024. Accessed 09 March 2024 from