images of this Property
32 images: Press to view larger or scroll sideways to see more. Contributions by Jack Boucher for HABS/HAER RI-407
About this Property
The State of Rhode Island assumed ownership of the Providence Armory in 1996 as the National Guard were moving out the following year. Since then, this “castle for the people” has been threatened by neglect and deferred maintenance as new uses have been sought for its voluminous spaces.
In 1998 The National Trust for Historic Preservation added the Armory to its 11 Most Endangered Sites List. It was the second property in the state ever to be listed (the first was the Block Island lighthouse). The Providence Preservation Society’s Ten Most Endangered Buildings listed the building in 1996 and it continued to stay on the list until 2000, then was listed again in 2003. In 2004, Ballot Question #6 which would have provided a $12 million bond to restore and reuse the building as the State Archive was rejected. The property was then listed again in 2015, 2016, and 2017.
In the late 2000s the building hosted car shows, inaugural balls, track meets, and home shows, and housed the office of the state fire marshal along with storage space for other R.I. state agencies. The films Outside Providence (1999) and Underdog (2007) were filmed using the open areas within the Armory for bluescreen work, as well as exterior shots of adjacent areas. It was the site of Jorge Eloza’s inauguration in 2015. In 2021, the armory was again used as a filming location, this time for Hocus Pocus 2. In 2022, it was used as a temporary warming station during a bout of unseasonally cold weather.
For several years, the State has funded repairs of the roof, flashing, parapets and other masonry. As of February, 2019, the State has continued to work with a steering committee of community organizations, members, City representatives and others, to conduct a participatory process to find new users and uses.
In early 2023, an out-of-state developer with local roots was interested in the building. Lindsey Scannapieco and Everett Abitbol head Scout Limited, a Philidelphia-based development company. Locally, they purchased and converted the former Weybossett Mills Dye House in Olneyville.
According to a Providence Journal article:
Scout’s Armory mantra is to “use a light-touch approach,” or as Scannapieco describes it: “What is already here and how can we make that work?”1
And they have a track record in Philadelphia. Scout was responsible for the redevelopment of a 300,000-square-foot former vocational high school into a “space for makers, nonprofits, small businesses, and artists” called BOK.2
Built in 1907 on the southern end of the Dexter Training Ground, this magnificent building had been in continuous use by the RI National Guard until 1997. Ebenezer Knight Dexter willed the land to be known as the Dexter Training Ground to City of Providence to be used for military training (used during Civil War as encampment and drill field). The Training Ground became part of city’s park system (395,410 sq. ft.), and soon after, the Armory was built by contractor M.J. Houlihan and architect William Walker and Sons on the fields’ southern end for a total cost of $650,000 over a period of ten years.
Architects William Walker and Sons designed most of the armory buildings and Masonic halls in Rhode Island as well as many other large public buildings in the state including the North Main Street Armory, the Avon Theater and Trinity Rep. William Walker and Sons was selected to design the armory through a competition.
The architectural style is Medieval Gothic, with castellated fortress appearance, slate roof, yellow brick, copper flashing, and granite carvings. The general layout consists of two office towers with a four-story open atrium in each 6-story tower, flanking a large drill hall with 90 foot ceilings. This central Drill hall covers 8,775 sq. ft (about a sixth of a football field). The towers are each 35,100 sq. ft., with a total sq. footage including basement for the building at 165,300 sq. ft.
Before the Providence Civic Center was built downtown, the Armory building functioned as a public space with track meets, dog shows, circuses and gubernatorial inaugural balls. Its distinctive form can be seen from all over Providence and the outlying areas.
More info on RI Armories: www.rhodeislandarmories.org
From the nomination form for the Broadway-Armory Historic District, 1976
375 Cranston Street, Cranston Street Armory (1907): William R. Walker, architect. 4 to 6-story; granite and yellow brick; monumental, fortress-like typical armory; incorporating a central drill hall with hip and monitor roof, flanked by 4 1/2-story end blocks, each with a 6-story tower above the twin deeply recessed and arched Dexter and Parade Street entrances. Fine detail includes: elaborate corbeled, machicolated cornices, bartizans, grouped windows, battered walls, copper trim on balconies, parapet, and battlements, and rusticated 1st stories on the end blocks. (C) An earlier armory on Parade Street since the first half of the 19th C. (gone) played a part in the Dorr Rebellion of 1842.
In the News
Providence wants $45 million from state to take over Cranston Street Armory, emails show
by Alexa Gagosz
Boston Globe | August 31, 2023 (abridged)
If the City of Providence takes ownership of the long-vacant Cranston Street Armory, Mayor Brett Smiley’s administration said it will need a minimum $45 million from the state to help with ongoing maintenance costs and capital improvements, according to new documents released this week through a public records request.
The records, which were first requested by The Providence Journal and later obtained by the Boston Globe, indicated that Smiley’s administration is eager to take the armory off the state’s hands, but that the cost could be burdensome on the city.
“Historically, this property has seen underinvestment, with maintenance over the years rightfully aligned with use of the property which was minimal,” wrote Smiley’s chief of staff Emily Ward Crowell on July 7 to McKee’s office. The cost of the armory’s future investments “are beyond the scope of what the city’s budget can absorb.”
Crowell wrote that if the city was to take over the deed for the armory, the city would request that the state provide grants that totaled $45 million over the next three years “to ensure that the city can care for the building while also making the necessary improvements to its core infrastructure quickly.”
These dollars, she wrote, “would ensure that the building is transferred responsibly with a clear plan for future success.” She proposed the city receive $20 million of the requested dollars during this current budget year. Another $15 million could be directed in Fiscal Year 2025, and the remaining $10 million in Fiscal Year 2026.
The state previously estimated that the ongoing maintenance and operations of the armory property will cost the state $28.5 million over the next 15 years if it’s not developed.
The state sent the city a spreadsheet of possible funding sources, which could include $45 million of the state’s $1.13 billion in American Rescue Plan Act dollars from Congress. Those dollars could stem from $125 million for “broadband equity, access, and deployment,” $16.6 million for community learning facilities, $4 million for “out-of-school-time learning grants,” and $27 million for “housing priority projects.” […]
The armory is a piece of “Providence’s history and should be used as an asset to spur economic development, contributing to the vitality of the neighborhood and city where it’s located,” Crowell wrote. […]
“At this time, terms are still being negotiated and discussed,” said Sheaff on Thursday. “A final agreement has not yet been reached.” […]
After years of back-and-forth with historic preservation committees, community members, and an outside development firm, the state finally released the $60.9 million plan for redevelopment from Philadelphia-based firm Scout Ltd. this year, which included an indoor soccer complex, state offices, and a small business incubator.
While there was a willingness to work with Scout from neighbors and local politicians — including Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos, who previously served as the president of the Providence City Council — the relationship between the development firm and the McKee administration took a turn earlier this year.
In July, McKee’s administration terminated its contract with Scout, which came months after Scout executives accused two Rhode Island state officials of inappropriate conduct that included a series of racist and sexist comments during a business trip to visit the firm’s property in Philadelphia. The same day the contract was terminated, the McKee administration also released a report from a real estate consulting firm hired by the state that determined the project would not be “in the financial interest of the state taxpayers.”
Critics speculated the governor was retaliating against the firm, but McKee said the cost analysis report showed that Scout’s proposal “put too much risk” on state taxpayers.
The March trip to Philadelphia, as well as a lunch McKee had with a local lobbyist and Scout executives, have spurred ongoing investigations by the Rhode Island Ethics Commission.
The two men who were accused of misconduct during the trip to Philadelphia in March are no longer employed by the state. Former state property director David Patten resigned in mid-June; James E. Thorsen, who previously served as director of the R.I. Department of Administration, stepped down in April to return to a federal position.
The misconduct allegations and McKee’s termination of Scout’s contract sparked an outcry among Providence residents. […]
Talks between the Smiley and McKee administrations over the ownership of the building have been ongoing since the beginning of the summer. During a June episode of the Rhode Island Report podcast, Smiley said the city was “prepared to put real financial resources into the proposal,” but that “the level of investment that we can make is not enough to get the project done on its own.”
Gagosz, Alexa. “Providence wants $45 million from state to take over Cranston Street Armory, emails show.” Boston Globe, 31 August 2023. Captured 15 December 2023 from https://www.bostonglobe.com/2023/08/31/metro/cranston-street-armory-future-still-in-question-due-to-costs/