Teste Block

A narrow and difficult to redevelop building languished on the Ten Most Endangered List for five years before getting a new life

About this Property

#Redevelopment

Providence Capital, a real-estate developer led by Vincent Geoffroy, and Architects StudioMeja (renamed & rebranded as SignalWorks) submitted plans and gained approval for a mixed use restaurant and residential use. Extensive masonry work was done to the building and a new glassed-in courtyard will expand the ground- and second-floor footprint for a 30+ seat restaurant.

Providence Capital took on this renovation at the same time as the nearby Providence G project, which converted the former National Grid gas company buildings and the garage for the former Narragansett Hotel into residential units as well as restaurant and commercial space. Providence Capital was also recently awarded $3.5 million to renovate and convert the former Union Trust building into residential.1

The redevelopment plan and execution won a Providence Preservation Society (PPS) Design Excellence Award in 2017 for the entire Providence G development. The Teste Block building had previously appeared on PPS’s Ten Most Endangered List five years in a row (2007 through 2011).

Along with the George C. Arnold building on Washington Street, these two buildings represent the narrowest still standing in the city.

#Current Events

The ground-floor commercial space is currently occupied by Sarto Providence, and Italian-inspired bistro (closed to indoor dining during COVID, check website for updates). We believe the apartments above are for rent through the Providence G, but have not been able to confirm this.

#History

From PPS’s Ten Most Endangered Nominations

The Teste Block was built in 1860 to designs by Providence architect Charles P. Hartshorn (1833-1880) whose work is now exceptionally rare. Among the oldest commercial buildings in downtown, it is an important component of the cluster of those remaining along Westminster and Weybosset Streets between Turk’s Head and Dorrance Street. Featuring red brick with white trim and paired arch windows, this diminutive yet monumental building is striking because of its relatively small size and significant as one of the last of the narrow, low-rise commercial structures in historic Downtown Providence.

Though previously used for office space on the upper floors and retail on the ground floor, the Teste Block has been vacant since 2004. The current owner, National Grid, whose Providence office is immediately adjacent on Dorrance Street, has no plans to use or sell it. While the parcel on which it stands has little economic utility by itself, it offers its owner room to expand its local headquarters. In another two years, the owner will be able to legally demolish the building under Downcity Review Commission regulations, which allow demolition of buildings that remain unoccupied for five years.

From the PPS/AIAri Providence Architecture Guide, 2003, by Wm. MacKenzie Woodward

Small-scale, low-rise buildings like this charming example by architect Charles P. Hartshorn rarely survive in bustling central business districts. Exceptionally shallow and wide buildings like this were never common in Downtown Providence, but the others have long since vanished as the small lots originally laid out here, when this was principally a mixed-use/residential neighborhood, were merged to form larger parcels for commercial development.

From the National Register nomination form for the Downtown Providence Historic District, prepared by William McKenzie Woodward, Principal Historic Preservation Planner, 1984

88 Dorrance St. Teste Block (1850-60, 1879): Italianate, 4-story brick building with 12-bay storefront and a broad cornice above first story; 6-bay facade on upper stories defined by narrow paired sash windows with polychrome segmental arches over each pair, stone stringcourses between each story; broad frieze and wide eaves.

Begun in 1859, the Teste Block was occupied the following year and expanded in 1879. For many years, a drug firm occupied the storefront, which today is a men’s clothing store. The upper stories have always housed small offices. An extremely handsome and well preserved mid-19th-century building, the Teste Block is the visual highlight of the intersection of Dorrance and Weybosset Streets.

  1. RI Commerce Awarded Projects for tax credits, 2016, captured August 25, 2021 from https://commerceri.com/incentives/tax-credits-and-financing/rebuild-rhode-island-tax-credit-providence-capital/