images of this Property
20 images: Press to view larger or scroll sideways to see more. Contribution from the Library of Congress and the David Doiron and Aurora Facebook pages
About this Property
The Wit Building, along with its neighbor the Lapham Building, have joined the group of historic buildings renovated by Cornish Associates into Westminster Lofts. The Wit building is the smallest of the bunch which includes the Alice, Burgess O’Gorman, Peerless, Wilkinson, Kinsley, and Smith buildings.
The Wit Building is now connected to the Lapham Building through the second floor space. Both the first and second floors will be commercial space with restaurant space available on the first floor. In 2019, the plan was for Union Studio Architects to move from their office in the back of the Peerless Building to the second floor of the Wit Building, but we have not confirmed the move.
Here is a great story about what lengths some will go to find original source material to inspire historic renovation. Cornish, Union Studio, and the State Preservation Officer assigned to the project scoured the archives for photos or drawings of what the Wit building looked like when it was constructed. Since it was not a grand building, there were none to be found.
Eventually, the preservation officer used the Providence Public Library’s physical card catalog (they kept it!) and found a mention of a Providence Journal article. The 1945 article explained how a scale model of the Union, Westminster, Mathewson, and Weybosset Street block that replicated “every window, every skylight… even the color scheme of the area” was made to help train fire fighters in dealing with dense urban centers. The original press clipping was found and with a magnifying glass, as close to the original facade design was found. More story details in a Facebook post from the RIHPHC.
From the Cornish Associates website press release
The Wit Building was built by the I. Wit Realty Co. sometime in the mid-1930’s. The building’s longest tenant was Jean’s Department Store, which existed from 1933 to 1979. In later years the building was home to the Black Repertory Theatre, Roots Cafe, and most recently Aurora.
— Captured February 9, 2020 from http://cornishlp.com/tag/lapham-building
From the National Register nomination form for the Downtown Providence Historic District, prepared by William McKenzie Woodward, Principal Historic Preservation Planner, 1984
276-282 Westminster Wit Building (non-contributing, ca 1925): 2-story masonry structure with plate-glass-and-aluminum storefront and a tile-sheathed upper story used as a background-billboard for a sign for the store. The Wit Building housed a shoe store for many years until a women’s retail shop remodeled the building and moved in during the 1950s. The building was occupied, upon the dress shop’s closing in 1980, by a bookstore.