South Street Power Station

also known as Narragansett Electric Lighting Company, Heritage Harbor, South Street Landing

A massive 58,000 sf former electricity generating station went through three different redevelopment projects over 20 years before finally being completed

About this Property

#Redevelopment

The redevelopment of South Street Landing took almost 30 years. We present the history of those efforts here as a timeline (oldest event first):

1991
Narragansett Electric decommissions the former power plant and starts to demolish smaller features on the site. The original smokestacks are removed.
1994
Talks begin with the Heritage Harbor Museum (HHM) to use the former power plant as their new home. The HHR was a local initiative started to create a state history museum. It’s original state charter of June 22, 1979 established the Foundation for the Promotion of State Cultural Heritage. It still survives as an educational initiative.1
1995
South Street is donated to the HHM in lieu of being demolished. The building and land was said to be worth $10 million.
2001
A $1.5 million dollar exterior renovation project was completed to ensure the building was weather tight and ready for interior renovations.
2004
As many as 19 businesses and cultural organizations join a coalition of member groups in developing the proposed Heritage Harbor Museum. It also became one of the first twelve museums in the Smithsonian Affiliates program, which means the museum would have access to the Smithsonian’s 140 million artifacts for temporary exhibitions.2 Despite this positivity and enthusiasm, the museum never will not open here.
2005
Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse (SBER) was selected to oversee the redevelopment of Heritage Harbor. The plan was to create a mix of office, retail space, and 40 condominium units, as well as exhibition space for HHM. The project was estimated to cost about $137 million (it started at $50m and some reporting quoted $150m) with new decorative smokestacks added to the top of the building, rising 128 feet above it. HHM gave Struever Brothers title to the property in exchange for “turn-key” development of the museum space.
October 2006
SBER was scheduled to start construction on the project. The project stalled, however, because the National Park Service rejected federal rehab tax credits. Construction required that new floors be added within the cavernous spaces, and was too big a change to the historic structure in their eyes. SBER also had trouble dealing with easements that National Grid still had on the land for the substation.3
2007
A new construction date is scheduled for June4 with construction to be completed by the summer of 2009. Groundbreaking actually occurs in November. Some work does finally begin, namely, the windows are are all removed and opened up (some were bricked in) and the roof is removed, presumably, to be replaced. It sits open to the elements for almost 10 years.
2008
Due to the financial collapse, the General Assembly scaled back the historic tax-credit program to plug the deficit in the state budget. The program was a boon to developers who were using it to redevelop properties that might otherwise be too expensive, like this one.5 SBER seeks alternative financing and changes the scale of the project.
January 2009
A 100-ton capacity crane has taken up residence on South Street. Steelworkers are laying beams atop the 100-foot high building. The ground floor, which is just bare ground in places, is a skating rink of rock solid ice. The structural supports for boilers and steam turbines have been removed. Custom windows, some 30 feet tall, were ordered.6
March 19, 2009
Work stops and the project closes at Dynamo House. The economic downturn brought financial troubles to the company and project. SBER would default on nearly $6 million in loans, lay off all their workers, and shut down its Providence office. The way in which the company walked away from its obligations puts the future of any physical HHM space in great doubt.7
2011 & 2012
The stalled projects and the way the building had been exposed to the elements force the Providence Preservation Society to place the structure on its 10 Most Endangered Lists two years in a row.
June 2013
Brown University announces its intention to be an anchor tenant in a $220 million redevelopment project that will house 11 administrative units of the University as well as the Rhode Island Nursing Education Center, a joint Rhode Island College and University of Rhode Island complex.
April 2014
The HHM organization agrees to sell an easement on the power station and tax credits attached to its potential redevelopment to CV Properties LLC — a Boston company led by Brown University graduate Richard Galvin. The museum corporation received $4.5 million from CV Properties in exchange for approximately $2.3 million in historic building tax credits and relinquishment of the easement. The museum also relinquished a $6-million second mortgage that came with an earlier transfer of the building to Struever Bros. The museum used about $500,000 to pay off a loan from the Providence Economic Development Partnership, which it used to buy those tax credits.8
December 2015
Developers break ground on the new project to be called South Street Landing. The building will achieve LEED Silver Certification and receives $49M in historic state and federal tax credits to finance its redevelopment in a private-pubic partnership.
January 2016
Ground breaks on a 744-space concrete parking structure to the north of South Street Landing, designed by Spagnolo Gisness & Associates (SGA).
October 2017
Brown relocates 400 staff to 136,000 square feet of the total 265,000-square-feet of renovated office space.9
2019
The National Trust for Historic Preservation honors South Street Landing with the 2019 Richard H. Driehaus Foundation National Preservation Award, which recognizes adaptive reuse projects that give new meaning to communities while preserving architectural and cultural heritage. The renovation leveraged TK&A Architects for the redesign.10

#Current Events

South Street Landing is home to office space for three major universities — Brown, Rhode Island College, and the University of Rhode Island —  as well as private companies and non-profits.

#History

From the National Register nomination form, 2006, prepared by Joanna M. Dohertv, Preservation Planner/Consultant, with Matthew A. Kierstead, Industrial Historian

The South Street Station at 360 Eddy Street is significant for the broad-reaching impact the facility had on the spread of electric service in Rhode Island, thereby contributing to the growth and development of the city of Providence and outlying areas, and as an excellent example of early twentieth-century power plant design. It was constructed by the Narragansett Electric Lighting Company (NELCo) in several stages, beginning with the erection of the east end of the present-day 200 Lb. House and Turbine Hall in 1912-1914 and concluding with the construction of the present-day 400 Lb. House in 1924-1925. NELCo employed a consistent architectural style — the Classical Revival — with each building campaign, giving the massive, 58,000 sq-ft structure a unified image. Located prominently just south of downtown Providence, the building has dominated the west side of the Providence River for 90 years, operating as a functional electric generating facility until the early 1990s.

More history

[…] Established in 1884, just two years after Thomas Edison opened the first electric generating station in the world in New York City, NELCo came to monopolize electric generation in the state of Rhode Island. Under the leadership of Marsden J. Perry, a powerful Providence businessman, NELCo secured municipal lighting contracts, courted the home consumer, and expanded its facilities continually in order to meet increasing demands from its manufacturing customers. In the 1910s, the South Street Station housed a 60,000 hp turbo-generator, which some sources indicate was the most powerful steam turbo-generator in the world at the time of its installation. By the early 1920s, NELCo had more than 71,000 customers and its territory stretched the length of Rhode Island along the west side of Narragansett Bay, even reaching into Massachusetts and Connecticut. […]

Built over the course of several building campaigns between 1912 and 1925 and designed largely by NELCo’s engineers, the South Street Station exemplifies early-twentieth-century power plant design. The building represented a significant departure from the Central Power Station, which NELCo built on the site in 1888-1891, and which resembled a large, unadorned factory. In contrast, the South Street Station’s Classical Revival style conveyed a sense of stability to the public. […]

Historical Background

The first electric company in Rhode Island was organized in 1882, when the Rhode Island Electric Lighting Company established a power station on Dyer Street, between Dorrance and Ship Streets, supplying electricity to 10 arc lamps at Market Square. The company soon had a rival, however. In mid-1883, Edward Goff, a sales representative for the Thomson-Houston Company of Lynn, Massachusetts, set up a demonstration station in the basement of the Butler Exchange Building in downtown Providence. Goff exhibited a new type of arc lamp in the showroom and, soon after, installed one of his company’s generators in the basement of a building at the corner of Aborn and Westminster Streets. Goff installed lights in the doorway and corridors of the building in an effort to generate interest among potential customers. Goff’s first client was a skating rink on Aborn Street and in April 1884, he secured a contract for municipal street lighting. Buoyed by his triumph over the Rhode Island Electric Lighting Company, Goff chartered the Narragansett Electric Lighting Company of Rhode Island on May 29, 1884. He installed seven more Thomson-Houston generators the following September. Around that time, Goff sold his fledgling company for $25,000 to a group of investors led by the prominent Providence business man Marsden J. Perry (1850-1935). Perry’s tenure with the company lasted until 1908, during which time he served variously as vice president, general manager, and president. […]

In addition to electric companies, Perry acquired gas, water and electric streetcar companies, creating a vast financial network and opportunities for further expansion. The streetcars operated by Perry’s companies (and powered by his electric interests) encouraged the development of suburbs, which in turn demanded the extension of gas, water and electric service. Ultimately, Perry’s holdings covered much of northern Rhode Island, serving 70 percent of the state’s population along with the state’s most heavily concentrated industrial areas. […]

The company’s coal-powered station on Aborn Street initially operated from mid-afternoon until midnight, and supported only streetlights. Early on, however, NELCo recognized the potential profits from providing electricity to businesses and residences and, by 1886 the company had doubled the capacity of its station and was operating it 24 hours a day. The demand from manufacturing customers necessitated an expansion, and in February 1888 NELCo acquired 60,000 sq ft of land on the Providence waterfront, between Elm and South Streets, for a new power plant, or “dynamo house.” Construction of the Central Power Station began in August of that year, under the supervision of the firm Remington & Henton, who had designed the structure, and was completed in 1891. The large, brick facility […] was dominated by a 257-foot-tall, octagonal brick chimney stack, one of the tallest in the region. […]

In 1901, NELCo purchased additional land, so that the company owned the entire block from the Providence River to Eddy Street, between Elm and South Streets. […]

As of 1910, the Central Power Station powered the machinery at 14 textile mills, 58 machine shops and 75 jewelry manufacturing firms. […] [A newspaper] article noted the need for the construction of a new station in the near future, to meet the ever-growing demand for power. Rather than continuing to expand upon the plant begun in 1888, the company chose to construct a new facility that, over the course of several building campaigns and two decades, would grow into the present-day South Street Station.

Construction of the South Street Station

Construction of the new power plant began with the erection of a boiler house and engine room in 1912-1914, which make up the eastern most seven bays of the present-day 200lb. House and Turbine Hall. The 257-foot-tall chimney stack from the original Central Power Station was retained and incorporated into the new facility. In addition, the original boiler house was maintained, at least initially, so that it could be pressed into service in the event of emergency peak loads. […] Plans for the building were not drawn up by architects but, rather, were “prepared by the regular engineering force of the company, and the work is being done under their supervision, largely by men directly employed by the corporation” (Providence Board of Trade Journal 1913:341). An examination of the original drawings for the building reveals that J.R. Worcester & Co. of Boston served as consulting engineers on the project, with M.W. Kern signing off on the plans. […]

[…] Resting on a 5-foot-thick concrete platform with 2,500 piles ranging in length from 40 to 60 feet, the building featured a steel frame, walls of brick with granite and limestone trim, and concrete roof and floors. Care was taken to include no wood or “other combustible material.” In addition to the original, 257-foot-tall stack, which was retained, the boiler house featured four new, 217-foot-tall chimneys, each about 11 feet in diameter.[…]

The boiler house accommodated a double row of Babcock & Wilcox Company boilers at the main level, consisting of twelve 600 hp and four 440 hp boilers that were able to accommodate 200 Ibs/sq in of steam pressure. The boilers burned coal distributed via a large, overhead concrete bunker, and were fed by automatic stokers at a rate that enabled the generators in the turbine hall to operate at 40,000 kw. […] The west end of the new boiler house and engine room was to be “closed with a temporary wall probably of corrugated iron. This is to allow for an extension that will be necessary soon […]”

Increased demand necessitated additions to the South Street Station. In 1916-1917, five bays were added to the west end of the boiler house, extending its length by approximately 85 feet and accommodating an additional eight boilers and two new chimneys. […]

Around the same time, a massive, $45,000, 60,000 hp turbo-generator capable of producing 45,000 kw of electricity was installed in the existing engine house. NELCo boasted that the machine was “the largest steam engine [turbo-generator] running in the world” […] Weighing 1,380,000 lbs, the new turbo-generator occupied a space roughly 50 feet by 37 feet. Its installation necessitated the removal of the 257-foot-tall octagonal brick chimney. Demolition of the chimney, which had been a Providence landmark since it was constructed in 1888, began in May 1916 and was to be completed by July 1. […]

NELCo expanded its facility yet again in 1919, with the construction of a portion of the existing Substation off the north elevation of the Turbine Hall. […] Additions to the 200 Lb. House and Turbine Hall followed in 1920-1921. Eight new boilers were installed in an approximately 70-by-80-foot addition to the 200lb. House, adding another four bays to the west end of the building. […]

Because of the “rapidly increasing demand for electric service,” NELCo began “the largest construction program of any year in the company’s history” in 1924. That year, the company’s Board of Directors authorized the expenditure of $1 million on four new, 1,850 hp Babcock & Wilcox boilers that would increase the capacity of the plant by 40percent. The massive new boilers would be housed in an approximately 110-by-100-foot addition on the west end of the building — the present-day 400 lb. House. Construction on the 400 lb. House, which was designed by the Providence engineering firm of Jenks & Ballou and built by the D.E. Mclntire Company of Boston, had begun by the fall of 1924 and was completed in 1925. […] The 400 lb. House boasted a 323-foot-tall, 18-foot-diameter chimney which, when built, was the highest structure in Rhode Island. […] The boilers, which operated under steam pressure of 375 psi, ran a massive, $850,000, 32,500 kw, General Electric turbo-generator, which was housed in an approximately 100-by-60-foot addition to the Turbine Hall, also designed by Jenks & Ballou and completed in 1925. A total of $4.65 million was spent on the 1924-1925 construction at the South Street Station, which, in addition to the 400 Lb. House and the expansion of the Turbine Hall, included a 70-foot-long extension on the west end of the 200 lb. House. […] The 1924-1925 building campaign also included the construction of a coal pulverizing plant (not extant) at the northwest corner of NELCo’s property. Here, coal was crushed until it was “finer than talcum powder,” and then conveyed to the boiler house where it was blown into the boilers and burned to create steam to run the turbines. […]

By the mid-1920s, the South Street Station had taken on its present-day configuration, consisting of a 340-by-80 foot 200 Lb. House (1912-1914, with additions in 1916-1917, 1920 and 1924), the 370-foot-by-60-foot Turbine Hall (1912-1914, with additions in 1916-1917, 1921 and 1924-1925), the roughly 200-by-20-foot Substation (1919 with an addition in 1923) and the 110-by-100-foot 400 Lb. House (1924-1925). […]

Historical maps and plans from the 1950s depict the South Street Station site at the peak of its development. The Sanborn atlas from 1955 shows the new powerhouse, as well as the coal pulverizing facility that was built at the northwest corner of the site in 1924-1925. A coal conveyer on a 30-foot-tall steel trestle linked the pulverizing plant to both the new powerhouse and the original facility, and continued south along the west side of the river, to provide coal to Narragansett Electric’s Manchester Street Power Plant. A plan and elevation from 1956 labels the structure in the northwest corner of the lot a “former coal house,” and shows the addition of three fuel oil tanks at the north side of the property, suggesting that at least some of the boilers were now running off of oil. The new powerhouse, known as the 2000 Lb. House, had a 331-foot-tall smokestack, and two of the chimneys on the 1912-1925 plant had been removed by this time. By 1970, only one oil tank was located on the property and the coal pulverizing facility was no longer extant.

Ultimately, NELCo phased out the South Street Station in favor of their Manchester Street Power Plant, which was expanded and modernized in 1995. The subsequent decommissioning of the South Street Station resulted in the removal of the 1924-1925 gatehouse, the 1950s 2000lb. House and the oil tanks. The chimney stacks were removed from the roof of the building. […]

  1. Heritage Harbor website, captured January 16, 2021 from https://heritageharborfoundation.org 

  2. _“Heritage Harbor Museum will open despite state and city budget crises,” Dana Goldstein, Providence Journal, January 5, 2004. Captured January 16, 2021 from https://www.urbanplanet.org/forums/topic/13145-in-progress-the-dynamo-house-heritage-harbor/ 

  3. Hearsay posted to the Urban Planet forum. Captured January 16, 2021 from https://www.urbanplanet.org/forums/topic/13145-in-progress-the-dynamo-house-heritage-harbor/page/8/#comments 

  4. “Reinventing a waterfront icon,” Mary Lhowe, Providence Business News, February 26, 2007. Hidden behind a paywall with some content available at https://web.archive.org/web/20070307081215/http://www.pbn.com/stories/23255.html 

  5. “Now residential,” Providence Journal, April 19, 2008. Captured January 16, 2021 from https://web.archive.org/web/20110728110000/http://www.projo.com/business/content/BZ_OLDUTILITIES_04-19-08_1S9C73N_v16.298959f.html 

  6. “The transformation of South Street Station,” Providence Journal, January 18, 2009. Captured January 16, 2021 from https://web.archive.org/web/20110501025210/http://www.projo.com/ri/providence/content/DYNAMO_HOUSE_01-18-09_K3CVEB4_v72.3aca12b.html 

  7. “Historic Power Plant in Providence, R.I., May Get Another Chance at an Encore,” Elizabeth Abbott, New York Times, January 8, 2013. Captured January 16, 2021 from https://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/09/realestate/commercial/new-revival-plans-for-historic-providence-ri-power-plant.html 

  8. “Museum group agrees to sell easement, tax credits to developer of former power station,” Paul Grimaldi, Providence Journal, April 29, 2014. Captured January 16, 2021 https://www.providencejournal.com/article/20140428/news/304289988 

  9. “An academic and economic powerhouse — Brown moves into South Street Landing”, Brown University website, October 19, 2017. Captured January 16, 2021 from https://www.brown.edu/news/2017-10-19/ssl 

  10. “South Street Landing wins top National Preservation Award,” Brown University website, October 11, 2019. Captured January 16, 2021 from https://www.brown.edu/news/2019-10-11/preservation