Providence Steel & Iron

also known as Builders Iron Foundry, The Steel Yard

A 100-year-old ornamental steel and iron manufacturer gets a new life as a center for vocational training and art creation

About this Property

#Redevelopment

The Steel Yard was founded in 2002 by Nick Bauta and Clay Rockefeller in the hopes of creating a new space for artists to gather and practice age-old trades of metal-smithing and more. In collaboration with fellow artists and community members, Bauta and Rockefeller built a non-profit around the idea of connecting people to how things are made and teaching them about process.

The first major foray into programming began with the intention of furnishing local metalworkers with access to a well-equipped shop. Providence Steel & Iron’s ornamental steel shop was converted into an industrial arts facility and education center. The facility and surrounding site now accommodates classes and projects in welding, blacksmithing, ceramics, jewelry, glass casting, and the foundry arts.

Over the years, both the interior and exterior spaces have been used for the fabrication of products, the creation of works of art, open houses, workshops, demonstrations, exhibits, and performances. The input and assistance of the surrounding community has helped drive a grassroots evolution at the Steel Yard ensuring that its vision, curriculum, and facilities are unique and uniquely beneficial to the locality in which they work.

In 2008, funds from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) matched local state dollars to begin remediation of contaminants across the site. Boston-based landscape architects Klopfer Martin Design Group (KMDG) designed the new grounds created an improved flow for community events on the site without changing the layout of buildings or cranes. The remediation and redevelopment of the grounds took two years.

#Current Events

The Steel Yard is a place to learn to weld, make jewelry, throw a pot, pour bronze, or many other “industrial” arts. The Yard is also available to rent as an event space, and frequently will host community events open to the public.

#History

From the National Register Nomination Form, written by Edward Connors

Providence Steel and Iron Company (PS&I) was created as a subsidiary of Builders Iron Foundry (BIF), a Providence company established in 1822. Over an 80-year period, BIF manufactured precision iron castings, water meters, and architectural iron work in its downtown Codding Street shop. Significant work during these years included iron and marble stairs for the Library of Congress.

As a result of a federal government assessment of coastal defense in the 1880s, BIF secured extensive government contracts in the following decade for the manufacture of 12” breech loading rifle mortars. During this same period BIF oversaw the management of the Rice and Sargent Steam Engine Company and the Providence Steam Engine Company. In 1899, Diamond Machine Company left its Atwells Avenue factory and moved into BIF’s Codding Street plant. This expansion likely caused serious space problems. In 1902 BIF purchased about 20,000 sq. ft. of land at the corner of Sims and Kinsley Avenues across the street from the Norcross Brothers Stone Cutting, a Worcester-based company providing the marble used for the construction of the Rhode Island State House.

Architecture

Read about the Buildings and Cranes

The Providence Steel and Iron Company Complex (PS&I) is a group of five one- and two-story, predominantly brick industrial buildings located on an Z-shaped, 3-acre lot in a densely-developed industrial area north of downtown Providence. This parcel, at the corner of Sims and Kinsley Avenues, faces the Woonasquatucket River across Kinsley Avenue. The complex includes the original structural steel building (which included an office, pattern room, and drafting rooms) sited at the corner of Sims and Kinsley, an ornamental iron building, a bar shop, a maintenance shed, and a detached office building. These buildings are arranged around the periphery of a central yard served by a succession of steel gantries and cranes and a narrow gauge rail that allowed for the manipulation of materials, stock and fabricated structures and transport into the various buildings. The Structural Shop (Building 1) represents a very early example of industrial buildings designed for electric drive of machinery. This new technology allowed greater flexibility in building design, machine placement, and workflow.

Building 1, Structural Steel Building (1902, 1939): Houlihan and Maguire, architects. A brick, roughly 150’ x 100’, pier and spandrel building consisting of a main 1- and 2-story section occupying the corner of Kinsley and Sims Avenues and a 1-story, 35 x 30, wing off the west elevation that housed a blacksmith shop and bathroom. […]

The main section consists of a deep, single-story structural steel shop with a long, open stairway leading to upper rooms that housed the drafting room, pattern room, and office. The shallow-pitched gable roof is steel and timber framed with a 4’ raised clerestory over the structural shop. This steel and timber roof framing is supported by heavy timber columns. The basic elements of an internal crane survive, although the hoist itself is missing. The roof is predominantly tar and gravel. […]

A roughly 400-foot long, 36-inch narrow gauge rail serves the yard from the vicinity of the stockyard crane. This rail runs in a generally north-south direction, entering the structural steel shop via the rear door and running the length of the shop. The rail is notable for its use of steel ties, rather than timber, as was commonly used.

A large, roughly 80’ x 120’ open enclosure is attached to the rear of this building. Likely built after the 1939 addition, this consists of steel columns and beams supporting a shallow-pitched plank roof. This enclosure houses two cranes (discussed below). Within this enclosure are found several old pushcarts associated with the 36” rail and a few that served a smaller rail within Building 1.

Building 2, Ornamental Iron Building (between 1918 and 1921): A deep, single-story, 45’ x 122’ shop with a side wing that originally consisted of a 16’-wide locker room at the rear corner of the east elevation. Over time, this locker room enclosure was extended the length of the building to form the current footprint. Part of this northerly extension wall is constructed of firebrick.

The main wing of this building consists of a steel beam frame set on a raised concrete foundation. A low wall of brick with a heavy concrete sill supports a band of metal-frame windows that runs the length of the building. The roof of this section is gabled and supported by steel trusses. The roof surface is shingled wood plank. Along the ridge line on the east pitch of the roof is a series of flat sash skylights. The side wing has a simple pitched roof supported by I-beams. […]

Building 3, Office (between 1921 and 1926 with 1948 extension): A brick and steel frame, 30’ x 65’, two-story office building fronting on Sims Avenue. The roof is near-flat with a visible steel beam at the cornice. The original dimensions of this building were 30’ x 45’. This plan included a staircase along the south wall. In 1948 PS&I extended the building another 20’ south, creating two new rooms and a new stairwell. This addition was designed by Dwight Seabury Company (Pawtucket).

Metal-frame, rectangular windows are grouped in threes: a 12-light central window flanked by two 9-light windows. These have either 4- or 6-light hoppers. The main entrance is a modern steel and glass door.

Building 4, Bar Shop, first extension of Ornamental Iron Building (between 1926 and 1937): This single-story, 50’ x 70’, steel-frame building is sheathed in corrugated steel panel. It is attached to Buildings 2 and 5. The roof is gabled and also sheathed in corrugated steel. A band of flat sash skylights is located on the west roof pitch at the roof ridge. The floor is concrete. Integrated into the steel framing are two gantries with movable cranes and 3-ton hoists.

Windows are rectangular, metal-frame, 16-light, with 8-light hoppers. This shop served an auxiliary function to the Ornamental Iron Building for use in the cutting and storage of steel bar.

Building 5, second extension of Ornamental Iron Building (between 1937 and 1951): A deep, single-story, 45’ x 65’ building attached to the rear wall of Building 4. Similar in its steel-frame construction to this Building 4, it consists of a deep room with an interior 5-ton crane running perpendicular to the axis of the building. The gantry is integral with the building frame. The roof and walls are sheathed in corrugated steel. There are two rows of metal-frame, rectangular windows on the east elevation: upper windows are 16-light with an 8-light hopper; lower windows are 20-light with an 8-light hopper. A row of flat sash skylights is found at the ridge line of the west roof pitch. This building originally had a dirt floor. In the 1960s PS&I poured the present concrete floor. A tall, narrow, double wooden door allows access to the rear area of the stockyard crane.

Gantries and Movable Cranes (post-1945): Two photos taken in 1902 before the erection of the present materials handling system indicates that the earliest materials handling system likely consisted of two gantries and cranes located in the yard immediately south of Building 1. Although two hand-operated chainfalls dating to the early 20th-century have been found at the site, the means by which the cranes were moved is unknown at present.

Around 1937, PS&I acquired the final parcel that comprises the present-day Z-shaped lot. By the following decade the company had erected the current network of five east-west axis steel-beam gantries resting on concrete footings and supporting several traveling cranes with 3- or 5-ton electrical hoists. These gantries are integrated in that adjoining cranes share a common gantry; e.g., the south gantry of the crane in Bay 1 also serves as the north gantry for the crane in Bay 2. These gantries and cranes thus form a system through which structural materials could be manipulated and moved throughout much of the yard. Bays 1 and 2 (the northernmost bays) each have two moving cranes with 3-ton hoists on a common gantry. Bays 3 and 4 (extending out of the yard and onto the Sims Avenue sidewalk) each have one crane with a 3-ton hoist. The internal rail track passes through Bays 3 and 4 into the rear of Building 1. Bays 1-4 range in span from roughly 32-40’.

A 5-ton rail crane (utilizing a single gantry), independent of the shared network of gantries used in Bays 1-4, also extends along an east-west axis. It is located toward the rear of the yard in the vicinity of Building 3, entering the east wall of Building 5 via a two-story doorway.

At the rear of the lot is a 250’ long 45’ span stockyard crane built by Shaw-Box Company (Michigan). This was the former outdoor storage area for steel stock after 1937.