United Traction Company Depot and Repair Barn

also known as Cranston Street Trolley Barn, Union Traction (common misnomer)

A huge turn-of-the-century brick barn for trolleys that was later used by the Narragansett Brewing Company for storage & distribution.

About this Property

Reason for Demolition

A classic case of demolition by neglect. In 2005, the last piece of the now-famous Narragansett Brewery was lost. If only the beer won back it’s charm earlier, the building might have been saved and become the site of some sort of brewery operation. A series of suspicious arsons inside the caverous building set off a series of events where the safest (and easiest, cheapest) thing to do was to take it down.

Timeline of its demise

The United Traction Electric Company builds this as a street car depot and repair shop for its electric trolley fleet. Through a series of merger’s and acquisitions, the company will change its name to the Rhode Island Company by 1902. An earlier account of electric trolleys in the state was written by Scott Molloy.
circa 1918 or 1938 (depending on the source)
Nearby Narragansett Brewery purchases the building and land. The brewery used it for storage and repair of its delivery fleet. They were the only one in the area to ship with their own cars — with 75 horses, 45 wagons of various types, and electrically propelled and gasoline trucks. It owned 25 refrigerator cars as well. (Breweriana.com, defunct). The Trolley Barn was 108,000 square feet, of brick and cement construction, with a full basement and large wide-open floors.
July 31, 1981
After a successful run, and due to increasing competition from larger national brands, Narragansett Brewing closed it’s doors and laid off 350 workers. The larger complex and the Trolley Barn’s fate were uncertain.
July 1995
S & P Corporation, the holding company which held Narragansett Brewing Company’s assets, sold off 46 tons of brewery equipment and shipped it to China.
October 27, 1998
Decaying buildings and asbestos-ridden equipment and vaults were finally condemned. An excavator rammed its claw-like grapple into the side of the bottling plant. A group of eight other buildings were demolished in the following months. Only the trolley barn was spared for possible redevelopment.
circa 2002-2003
The 77 acres upon which the Brewery sat is turned into a suburban mall, with a stand-alone restaurant chain, a Lowe’s hardware big box, and a Super Stop-n-Shop. In a quaint turn of phrase, or with a slight sneer to the preservation community, the development is called Brewery Parkade.
The City of Cranston officially condemns the building. Paolino Properties enters negotiations with the City of Cranston for developing a new Police Headquarters, possibly on the Trolley Barn site. Janet Zwolinski from Preserve RI starts to talk with Paolino Properties about other options, including the use of Historic Tax Credit to save the structure: “I did originally contact Paolino Properties in April of 2003 and spoke with Allen Peteruto of Brewery Parkade, a subsidiary of Paolino Properties, and was told that if Joseph Paolino, Jr. wanted [Preserve RI’s] help, he’d follow up. …[T]here was no follow up. In subsequent discussions with JP, Jr., I again offered Preserve RI’s help in finding a use for the building and was told to direct my efforts to the Governor’s office. […] PRI sent a letter to the Governor, co-signed by our Board Chair, and also to the Director of Administration and to Chair of the State Properties Committee urging them to consider reusing the Trolley Barn as the new home for the Registry of Motor Vehicles.”
May 6, 2005
An arson was reported in the Trolley Barn. It was later determined that “teenagers” set fire to pallets in the cement and brick structure. The fire department doused the fire, and although some of the wooden roof and window sills suffered damage, the main structure remained intact. Still, the Barn was declared a public nuisance by the mayor. Janet Zwolinski again: “[Preserve RI] again offer[s] our assistance in finding a new use or new owner for the Trolley Barn. Time is of the essence when dealing with vacant or dilapidated historic properties. Communities need to put pressure on developers to reuse their local landmarks, and not let them sit idle until they become dangerous liabilities. The cost, both monetarily and to our sense of place, is great.”
May 31, 2005
The wrecking ball starting to demolish the back of the Trolley Barn (the side furthest away from Route 10). The demolition company used the crumbled brick and concrete to fill the hole. Nothing was reclaimed by the wrecking company, but local laborers took it upon themselves to stack pallets with unbroken bricks to sell on the reclaimed brick market (yes, there is such a thing).

Current Events

As of July, 2020, nothing has been built upon this 13 acre site — since the demolition in 2005.


National Register Eligible, never listed.

From “Rhode Island Freight Rail Improvement Project: Final Environmental Impact Staement”, January 1998 (Google Books)

This large, two and one half story brick building was built in 1900 by the United Traction Company to house and repair its streetcars. Narragansett Brewery purchased the building in 1918 for use as a warehouse. […] The building has been determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (DMJM/Harris 1993) through consensus between the FRA and the RISHPO. […] The United Traction property is 6.91 acres in area.

From William H. Jordy et al., Society of Architectural Historians

Dilapidation does not obscure the impressiveness of this massive brick barn erected for one of the Rhode Island Company’s electric trolley lines. Around 1900 industrial buildings associated with emerging electrical technology tended to receive special architectural attention. Such was also the case with the Narragansett Electric Company’s slightly later Manchester Street generating plant. There, Neo-Renaissance detail notwithstanding, the treatment anticipated a more modern approach to the industrial structure. Here the image is more archaic — powerfully so, and especially in the spreading central gable with its tiered arching and its rugged cap in rough granite. This feature is slightly stepped from a blunt pinnacle down to corner blocks which the brick wall below receives in the subtle swelling of its upper corners.

The Rhode Island Company’s ownership of both the trolley line and the electric company indicates the convenient monopoly it enjoyed. Marsden J. Perry headed both United Traction and the Union Trust Bank in Providence, accounting in part for the fortune that could buy the prestige of the John Brown House and fill it with a magnificent collection of colonial American and eighteenth-century British furniture.

When trolley service declined in the late 1930s, the barn became a warehouse for the Narragansett Brewery, located across the street until its demolition in 1999. One only hopes that the fate of this vast, abandoned barn could be more secure.

From “RHODE ISLAND: An Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites”, Gary Kulik and Julia C. Bonham, 1978

The United Traction Electric Company built this imposing 2-story,brick-pier building as a street car depot and repair shop only six years after the last horsecars ran in Providence. The building has large blind arches, heavy granite lintels, and intricate corbelling.

United Traction, chartered in New Jersey in 1893, bought out three smaller companies; the Pawtucket Street Railway, the Providence Cable Tramway, and the Union Railroad, the latter originally organized by the Spragues, Cranston textile mill owners, in 1864. Nelson Aldrich, United States Senator from Rhode Island, played a key role in the consolidation. Part of the capital was supplied by the American Sugar Refining Company and since Senator Aldrich had previously sponsored legislation to benefit American Sugar, the press raised serious questions about the propriety of the transaction.

Two years later, an even larger monopoly was created. The newly formed Rhode Island Company not only owned the city’s trolley lines, but controlled as well the Providence Gas Company and the Narragansett Electric Lighting Company. In 1906, following the pattern of increasing monopoly control especially evident in this period, J. P. Morgan’s New Haven Railroad bought out the Rhode Island Company. With the national demise of urban trolley lines, the Narragansett Brewery bought the depot about 1938 and converted it to use as a warehouse. Some street car tracks are still in place inside, though most of the original equipment and fittings have been removed.

In the News

Cranston’s old trolley barn getting a high tech occupant

by K. Alexa Mavromatis
Providence Business News (PBN) | October 9, 2000

Today, the sign on the old Narragansett Brewery Warehouse on Cranston Street says “Case and Brewery Supply Storage.” Soon it will read “American Broadband, Inc.” American Broadband last week announced it will headquarter its Rhode Island operations in Cranston, in the former warehouse (and before that, a trolley barn) that has sat idle for nearly… (truncated due to pay wall. As far as we know, this deal never completed.)