Rhode Island Hospital, Southwest Pavillion

This building survived for 115 years before becoming too outdated to stay relevant in an ever-expanding hospital system

About this Property

Reason for Demolition

Lifespan and the board had been considering what to do with the Southwest Pavillion since 1995, after the completion of the new main building. In 2009 and feasibility study of the building was conducted and it was determined that it would cost $26.5 million to restore the building and make it functional for patient use. Its narrow layout and dense structural column grid made it difficult to use in a modern healthcare setting, according to a hospital system master plan. On the other side, demolition would cost only $2 million.

Lifespan sat with these numbers for a few more years before applying for a demolition permit in 2015. That application was originally denied, but was won a few months later through an appeal. Demolition had begun by June of 2016.1

Our take is that this was a difficult choice. Healthcare evolves rapidly and progress in technology and patient care best practices make the lifespans of these buildings short. Yes, it was a beautiful building designed by eminent architects with an impressive portfolio. And yes, they donÆt make them like the used to. But for Lifespan, that was the constraint. They couldn’t be saddled with a 115 year old building in the middle of their complex, half-empty and underutilized when patient care was their mission — not building preservation.

Current Events

The building was demolished in 2014, and in its spot a small two-story portion of the building remains with a newer façade. According to the news article below, the lower level of the building still needs to be used as a walkway and a conduit for utilities.


From the 2010 nomination to the Ten Most Endangered List, Providence Preservation Society

This building is part of the original campus of Rhode Island Hospital and was built by architects Stone, Carpenter and Willson in 1900. The Southwest Pavilion is one of the only survivors from the original campus and its loss would be devastating to the hospital’s sense of history. The Pavilion is hemmed in by HVAC gear and modern construction, such as the Ambulatory Patient Center that was built in 1973.

Opened on May 2, 1900, the Southwest Pavilion cost $175,000 and contained a children’s ward, playroom and various wards and departments for female patients. Most significantly, it was home to the first well-equipped, spacious pathology laboratory specifically designed for the purpose.

After completion of the new Main Building for RI Hospital in 1995, the original hospital building which it abutted was finally torn down, leaving only the Southwest Pavilion standing. It has been added on to and renovated in what some consider a highly disrespectful fashion over the last several decades, and it is now in an extreme state of disrepair. The upper floors of the building are no longer in use.

Lifespan has engaged consultants to conduct a feasibility study to consider all options for the building, not excluding demolition. The results of this study have shown that the building contains necessary components to the hospitals maintenance that prevent the building from being demolished. However the building still remains underutilized and threatened by additions and repairs.2

Read detailed history of the entire hospital complex

From a RIHPHC report “Statewide Historical Preservation Report — South Providence,” 1978

Rhode Island Hospital 1864-1976. Although a hospital had been established near this site before the Revolution, the present Rhode Is land Hospital complex was not begun until 1864 Figure 47. After completion of the main building in 1868 few additions were made with the exception of improvements to the 1862 Laundry-Power Plant until the turn-of the century. The Royal C. Taft Out patient Building Stone, Carpenter and Willson, 1891, a free-standing, brick, Renaissance Revival structure built near Eddy Street, was one of the first additions. It was a gift of Thomas P. I. Goddard. The first nurses home was built about 1893 as a result of a gift from Mr. and Mrs. George I. Chace. It stood near Lockwood Street which at that time formed the northern boundary of the hospital grounds until it was demolished in 1963.

After 1900, numerous gifts and benefactions particularly from the Sharpe, Brown, Metcalf and Ives families enabled Rhode Island Hospital to expand its facilities. The Southwest Pavilion for women and children Stone, Carpenter and Willson, 1900 was constructed in the eclectic Victorian Gothic style of the original 1864 Building and is still easily identifiable amidst modern encrustations by its high, dormered roof and tall tower.

In 1917 the Metcalf addition to the Taft Outpatient Building was constructed, followed by the Jane Frances Brown Building for private patients 1922 and extensively renovated 1959-1961; two employees’ dormitories given by Mr. and Mrs. Jesse H. Metcalf 1926, 1929; Aldrich House, a nurses dormitory 1927; Peters House, an interns’ residence given by Jesse H. Metcalf 1931; and the Samuels Dental Clinic, given by Colonel Joseph Samuels 1931. In spite of the large amount of new construction in the first three decades of the 20th century, the actual bed capacity of the hospital expanded very little, since practically all of the new buildings were employees’ residence halls. It had long been the policy of Rhode Island Hospital that employees should live on the grounds.

By the mid-1920s. Rhode Island Hospital served as the hospital for Providence and its surrounding area. Over 65 percent of the patients were from Providence and about 70 percent were treated free of charge, with the remainder paying only nominal fees. During the 1930s and 1940s, the physical plant of the hospital changed very little. The addition of the Josephine E. Potter Building for children in 1941 was the only major addition to the hospital complex between 1931 and 1955, with the exception of the enlargement of Peters House in 1948 to house more staff.

In 1950, the administration recognized the pressing need to modernize Rhode Island Hospital — both its physical plant and its medical program. Although the hospital was still the largest and best equipped in southeastern New England, it was decided to institute a master plan to incorporate more facilities for medical education and research and to increase the service area to a larger region. The emphasis in the succeeding decades shifted from public patients to private ones, until by 1960, 70 percent were private and 30 percent were ward patients — an exact reversal of the situation in the early 1900s. The realization of the new master plan was partially made possible by large gifts from George H. Norman of Newport and Charles J. Davol of Providence in 1952 and 1953.

By early 1956 the new main building, a 10-story X-shaped structure designed by Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott of Boston, had been occupied. A gift from Daniel H. George made possible the construction of the George Building for the care of cancer victims, completed about 1959. Unfortunately, its construction necessitated the demolition of the entire original hospital building in 1956.

Further progress in the 1950s and 1960s resulted in the construction of the Crawford Allen Memorial unit for children, adjacent to the Potter Building, in 1958; the Physician’s Office Building, in 1961; the new nurses education building, on the former site of the Chace Building, in 1963; and a new emergency unit and nurses dormitory, both also about 1963-1964. The construction of the new center building in the late 1960s and additions to the Jane Brown Complex rounded out the Hospital’s expansion. By the 1970s, Rhode Island Hospital had extended its boundaries north to Borden Street and across Plain Street to Beacon Avenue, resulting in great physical changes to the surrounding neighborhoods. From a small city hospital, it has grown into the major regional medical complex it is today, treating over 20,000 patients a year.

A caption from a scrapbook cutting reads:

From the opening of the hospital in 1868, its growth in every direction has been remarkable. The United States census shows only four hospitals in the country with larger training schools for nurses, and only four endowed hospitals which treated more bed patients than did the Rhode Island Hospital.


Quoted from an editorial written by Catherine W. Zipf, a research scholar at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a visiting associate professor at Roger Williams University

[…] The High Victorian Gothic style is best known for the patterns made by different colored building materials. This is called polychromy. The Southwest Pavilion has red brick with brown-and-white striped arches over its windows and steep roofs covered with red, gray, and brown slates. The multi-level towers and dormer windows are defining features.[…]

The ideas behind the style derive from the work of 19th century artist and philosopher John Ruskin. A pious man, Ruskin felt that architecture should express truth in construction and beauty in form, all of which reflected God’s grace. The polychromy was particularly important because, while stylish and popular for the time, the colors reflected what was found in nature, God’s creation.

Gothic elements were a key part of the style, hence the pointed windows on the Southwest Pavilion. Because Gothic forms originated from medieval cathedrals, they had associations with Christianity and moral goodness. High Victorian Gothic is commonly found on churches around the country. These associations were also fitting for places dedicated to health care.[…] 3

Map Sources

In the News

Fate of Southwest Pavilion in the air — Hospital mulls next step following city panel’s rejection of demolition plan

by Patrick Anderson
Providence Journal | December 19, 2015 (abridged)

Rhode Island Hospital officials said Friday they are “disappointed” in the Providence City Plan Commission’s rejection of plans to demolish the 115-year-old Southwest Pavilion and are considering how to proceed.

On Tuesday the commission went against the recommendation of city planning staff and unanimously voted not to accept Rhode Island Hospital’s master plan, which had been amended to reflect razing the pavilion, the last building remaining from the medical center’s original 19th-century campus.[…]

Anderson, Patrick. “hospital Fate of Southwest Pavilion in the air — Hospital mulls next step following city panel’s rejection of demolition plan.” Providence Journal (RI), sec. RI News, 19 Dec. 2015, p. 4. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/159D663FEEEF0B90. Accessed 12 Feb. 2022.

R.I. Hospital seeks to demolish 115-year-old pavilion — Building was part of original campus, but hospital says it’s too costly to preserve

by Patrick Anderson
Providence Journal | November 11, 2015

Rhode Island Hospital plans to tear down most of its 115-year-old Southwest Pavilion, the last building remaining from the hospital’s original 19th-century campus.

The six-story, red-brick Victorian building on Eddy Street, now nestled tightly between newer, larger structures in the hospital’s South Providence complex, is “unsuitable for our current needs” or restoration, hospital President Margaret M. Van Bree wrote in a letter informing city planners of the decision.

Rhode Island Hospital has been considering razing the building for several years, and Durkee, Brown, Viveiros & Werenfels Architects, first hired in 2009 to evaluate the structure, issued an updated report in August estimating it would cost $26.5 million to restore the building.

“We cannot justify spending that much money on the [Southwest Pavilion],” Rhode Island Hospital wrote in an October amendment to its institutional master plan with the city. “We also considered letting the building remain standing. That is not a viable option given it needs costly structural repairs.”

The narrow layout of the building and number of structural columns make it impractical for modern health-care needs, the master plan said.

If it is torn down as the hospital and parent company Lifespan intend, there will not be a replacement building.

Because the lower level of the building is now used as a walkway between other areas of the complex and a conduit for utilities, the hospital is considering keeping some parts of the ground floor while most of the structure is torn down.

Durkee Brown estimated the cost of demolition at around $2.4 million.

Opened in 1900, the 48,000-square-foot building was an addition to the original 1860s main hospital building, itself since torn down [in 1956].

Originally featuring wards for women and children, the Southwest Pavilion also had the first purpose-built pathology laboratory, according to Rhode Island Hospital’s website.

Architectural elements include a south-facing sunroom, a steep slate roof and a distinctive tower.

The upper floors of the pavilion, where most of the original details remain, have been vacant for many years while the lower floors have gone through a series of modest renovations for use as storage and office space.

In 2010 the building was placed on the Providence Preservation Society’s 10 Most Endangered Properties list and current Preservation Society Executive Director Brent Runyon called the decision to raze the building “shortsighted.”

“We think it is incredibly shortsighted and unfair to the community because that building is the last remaining building of the original complex,” Runyon said. “It had a lot of firsts and the significance within the state is high. They continue to mistreat it and cause it to deteriorate and now say it costs too much to restore.”

Unfortunately for preservationists, there may not be much they can do, besides public pressure, to stop the demolition.

The hospital campus is not in a historic district and conditions of the master plan require only that demolition amendments require an explanation of efforts at preservation.

The hospital master plan amendment is scheduled to be presented to the Providence City Plan Commission at its Nov. 17 meeting.

Anderson, Patrick. “providence R.I. Hospital seeks to demolish 115-year-old pavilion — Building was part of original campus, but hospital says it’s too costly to preserve.” Providence Journal (RI), sec. RI News, 11 Nov. 2015, p. 3. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/1590E08B84490008. Accessed 12 Feb. 2022.

  1. “Beautiful building is coming down.” Providence Journal (RI), sec. RI Opinion, 30 June 2016, p. 15. NewsBank: America’s News, infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/document-view?p=NewsBank&docref=news/15DD51DF44785D08. Accessed 12 Feb. 2022. 

  2. Captured February 12, 2022 from https://web.archive.org/web/20140529211611/http://www.ppsri.org/ten-most-endangered-properties/2010-mep-list 

  3. “Beautiful building is coming down.”