Providence Machine

also known as One Allens Ave, Providence Steam Cotton Manufacturing Company, and Franklin Process

Demolished as part of the relocation of I-195 in the early 2000s, this large mill complex was home 45 small businesses, art studios, and a bar.

About this Property

Reason for Demolition

The Providence Machine Company was an early (2001) example of the Providence real-estate boom, but for a different reason. A developer didn’t want to make it into condos or erect a new residential tower in its footprint. No, unfortunately, the building was in the way of the I-195 relocation project. It stood in the way of new on-ramps and off-ramps, and so the state purchased the property in 2000 and by 2001 it was gone. Notably, many tenants were displaced and if Thurston Saw taught us anything, much of the machinery, doors, and woodwork that existed was taken down with the building instead of being salvaged.


Excerpted from a Providence Journal article about the displaced businesses

The Providence Machine Company had quite a history, and had tenants up until its last days. It was on the list along with 35 other buildings the state planned to demolish in order to untangle the knot of blacktop that carries the highway across the Providence River. Those buildings were home to 80 businesses and six families. Mandell’s garage, India Point Auto Service & Repair, in the city’s Corliss Landing section, were also demolished, which was in a former fire station just east of the Fox Point Hurricane Barrier. Other buildings slated for demolition were Thurston Manufacturing, the Centerfolds topless club, parking lots owned by Rhode Island Hospital, a 136,000-barrel oil tank owned by U.S. Generating Company, Gerardo’s Alternative Nightclub and five houses on Crary, Globe and Manchester Streets.

M. Bertram Forman and a business partner bought One Allens Ave in 1962, after it had been vacant for eight years. Forman built a new roof, installed new burners for a heating system and rewired the electricity. He put in fire alarms, three elevators and dozens of partitions. His building became home to 45 tenants, from photography studios and an art-framing store to a children’s acting workshop and a bar.

“It’s got more ambience than you could ever believe,“ Forman said. “The molding, the doors and everything in this building – you don’t see them built like this anymore.”

The red-brick monolith survived the Hurricane of 1938. As water gushed down the streets outside, Forman said, the building’s only hiccup was a small sewage backup in the lower cellar.

It has never fared well against highways. When the state built the Allens Avenue on-ramp to Route 95 many years ago, workers had to raze the rear of the building. The new Route 195 finished off the rest. Forman had been feeling it coming for some time. Rumors about the new highway had kept rents lower than he would have liked for about seven years.

From the RIHPHC’s survey of Providence Industrial Sites, July 1981

The Providence Machine Company was originally part of the Providence Steam Cotton Manufacturing Company, controlled by Samuel Slater and Sons. Thomas J Hill, one-time laborer at the Old Slater Mill and later partner of Samuel Slater, became the sole owner in 1846. He had new buildings constructed for the site. The shop manufactured all kinds of cotton and woolen machinery. In particular, they manufactured English fly frames and American riving frames for weaving.

The 2-acre complex included two main buildings, a foundry, a pattern shop, several storehouses and an office building. The buildings that remained for the most part of this century was only the main building, a three story brick structure with a pitched roof. Originally, the mill had four octagonal, castellated corner towers.

In The News

FORCED OUT - Artists are leaving Providence for cheaper digs out of town

by Bill Van Siclen
Providence Journal | February 4, 2001 (abridged)

For Michele Fremont, the timing couldn’t have been worse. After nursing her toy design company from a struggling start-up to a $350,000-a-year business, she suddenly had to move.

The reason: her building at One Allens Avenue is slated for demolition as part of the relocation of Route 195.

”You have no idea how hard this has been,” she says, surrounded by piles of plastic drop cloths and unopened packing boxes. ”Basically, you have to put everything on hold, find a new place, move your stuff and then crank everything back up again. And that’s if you have any clients left.”

Scott Lapham, a 32-year-old RISD grad who runs a small photography studio, knows how she feels.

Last fall, Lapham and about a dozen other artists who rented space in a building on Atwells Avenue received eviction notices. Why? Because city inspectors ruled that the building’s fire alarm system was inadequate.

”It was a great place,” says Lapham, who had to store his cameras and darkroom equipment with friends while he looked for a new studio. ”The rent was cheap, it was close to downtown and there was a real sense of community. Then it was, like, everybody had to clear out.”

Though their reasons for moving are different, Lapham and Fremont are part of the same disturbing trend.

Thanks to a triple-whammy of rising rents, soaring property values and continuing development both in and around downtown, artists and arts groups are finding it harder than ever to stay in Providence.

”The market for studio space is extremely tight right now,” says AS220 artistic director Umberto Crenca. ”In the past, if you were kicked out of one place, there was always another place to go. But now, with some of these big mill buildings being targeted for demolition, you actually have fewer options.”

(AS220, by the way, owns its building at 115 Empire St. and is not threatened by the current wave of development.)

At the same time, other cities appear to be benefiting from Providence’s space crunch. Both Lapham and Fremont, for example, wound up moving their studios to Pawtucket.

”There’s a lot more talk about moving out of the city than there used to be,” says Lapham, who plans to move into his new studio on Pawtucket Avenue next month. ”Since I need to be close to Providence, I couldn’t go very far. ”But I know that other people are looking at places like Central Falls and Fall River.”

Growing frustration

Within Providence’s close-knit artistic community, the loss of affordable studio space has been a topic of conversation and growing frustration for several years. But it wasn’t until last fall that the shortage went from private grumbling to public controversy.

That’s when New York developer Feldco Development Corp. announced plans to demolish a cluster of 19th-century factory buildings at Eagle Square, an old industrial district on the western edge of Federal Hill.

At the time, the buildings were occupied by 20 to 30 artists, most of whom had been attracted by the combination of low rents, large industrial spaces and the chance to be part of a lively, if loosely knit, artists’ community. The project also threatened Fort Thunder, an underground arts space popular with younger artists. […]

Meanwhile, other buildings that once provided low-cost living and working space for artists are also in jeopardy.

Last year, several artists and arts-related businesses were evicted from the former Silver Springs Bleaching and Dyeing plant on Charles Street. The reason: Home-repair giant Home Depot plans to demolish the plant to make way for its first Providence-based store. […]

Even downtown, where city officials have tried to lure artists with a combination of tax breaks and loft-style housing, rising rents and a tightening real estate market have taken a toll.

Two months ago, award-winning puppeteer Erminio Pinque and his troupe of Big Nazo puppets were forced to vacate their headquarters on Weybosset Street in the heart of Providence’s Arts & Entertainment District. The reason: Pinque’s landlord, the Providence Performing Arts Center, wanted the space for a new post-performance reception area.

Pinque, who is currently on tour in Indonesia, is still talking with city officials about remaining downtown. In the meantime, he and his troupe have rented temporary space at the Atlantic Mills complex in Olneyville.

This is different

In one sense, of course, stories about artists threatened by greedy landlords and cutthroat developers are as old as art itself. After all, artists are often among the first to feel the pinch when older buildings and neighborhoods go upscale.

Certainly, that was the case in the early 1990s, when dozens of artists were evicted from the sprawling Foundry (then CIC) Complex on Promenade Street. Despite warnings that the city was losing a one-of-a-kind artistic resource, most, if not all, the Foundry artists were able to find new studio spaces elsewhere in the city.

But according to many observers, both inside and outside the art community, this time is different. This time the search for new studio and performance spaces may not stop at the city limits.

“I think they’re kidding themselves if they think people are going to stay in Providence just to stay in Providence,” says Fremont, who looked at buildings in Providence, East Providence and Pawtucket before renting an unfinished 4,000-square-foot space on Webster Street in Pawtucket. “I was paying $7 a square foot in Providence. Now I’m paying $1.75 a square foot. At those prices, I couldn’t afford not to move.” […]

“I think what your seeing is a natural outgrowth of the success that Providence has had in reviving its economy,” says Herbert P. Weiss, programs manager for Pawtucket’s Office of Planning and Development. “That’s good for Providence, since it means that real estate prices are going up. But it’s also good for us, since it means that some of the artists who wouldn’t have thought about moving to Pawtucket before are giving us a second look.”

Pawtucket, in fact, is one of two Rhode Island cities (the other is Westerly) that have created legally defined arts districts modeled on Providence’s Arts & Entertainment District.

Like Providence, Pawtucket’s arts district offers financial incentives, including breaks on state sales and income taxes, for artists and arts-related businesses that relocate within the district. But Pawtucket has gone further. Among other things, it maintains a database that includes information on building locations, rental prices and availability. […]

So far, the city’s arts-friendly approach seems to be paying off.

In December, the annual Foundry Artists Holiday Sale was held in a former men’s clothing store in downtown Pawtucket. The sale, which still showcases the handiwork of many of the artists displaced from the Foundry complex a decade ago, had been held in Providence for 19 years.

Other new arrivals include Stone Soup, the venerable coffeehouse and folk music club which moved from Capital Center to Slater Mill last summer, and the Jewelry District’s Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre, which recently agreed to anchor a performing arts center planned for downtown Pawtucket. […]

Beautiful buildings

Then there are artists like Eric Bright, a nationally recognized ceramist who rents a studio in a former mill building at Eagle Street and Kinsley Avenue, near Eagle Square.

A few months ago, Bright’s landlord put the building up for sale. But rather than packing up his potter’s wheel, Bright began looking for ways to buy the property.

”I don’t think people realize how beautiful these buildings really are,” he says as shafts of late afternoon sun pour through 8-foot windows and bounce off refinished oak floors. ”They may look deserted, but they’re actually home to a very vibrant community of artists. Frankly, I’d rather live here than on Benefit Street.”

As for Pawtucket, Bright says it’s nice place to visit, but he has no desire to call it home. […]

At the same time, Bright and other artists are concerned about what they see as a widening gap between Providence’s arts-friendly rhetoric and projects like the Eagle Square shopping plaza and the Charles Street Home Depot.

“On the one hand, they make the city sound like this great place with all these historic old buildings and a wonderful arts community,” he says. “Then they turn around and let developers knock down the buildings and throw out the artists. It doesn’t make any sense.”

City officials say the’re working on the problem. But they also complain that artists often come to them as a last resort, after threats of rent hikes or eviction notices actually come true.

“The city is willing to work with any artist or arts group that has a problem,” says deputy city solicitor Patricia McLaughlin. “But we also find that artists aren’t always willing to involve us in what they’re doing. They have to be willing to work with us for us to help them.”

Signs of hope?

Ironically, the controversy over Eagle Square and an earlier squabble over the closing of the Safari Lounge, a popular hangout for artists and musicians on Eddy Street, may lead to a more constructive relationship between the city’s political and artistic communities.

City officials are already talking to Bright and several other artists who are interested in buying Bright’s building at 532 Kinsley Ave.

Meanwhile, a group of women artists is renovating a former public library branch in Olneyville Center. The six-member group, which calls itself the Hive Archive, hopes to turn the building into a local arts center, with live-in artists’ studios, a community darkroom and film center and performance and rehearsal spaces. (A.I.R: They now own and run The Wedding Cake House)

McLaughlin also hopes that a series of new legislative initiatives, including an easing of the state’s notoriously strict fire and safety codes, will help make renovating older buildings more attractive to landlords and developers.

That, in turn, could result in more work and living spaces for artists.

“Right now, to renovate and older building anywhere in Rhode Island, you have to bring it up to the same safety codes as a new building,” she says. “In many cases, especially when you’re dealing with some of these big industrial properties, it’s just not cost-effective.”

SICLEN, BILL VAN. “FORCED OUT - Artists are leaving Providence for cheaper digs out of town.” Providence Journal (RI), All ed., sec. Arts Week, 4 Feb. 2001, pp. E-01. NewsBank: America’s News, Accessed 29 June 2023.