The same day that we visited Battleship Cove, we also gave ourselves a walking tour of the older architecture in the downtown section of Providence. Yang and I had come here for a walk once before in the winter and marveled at the beautiful buildings with their ornate decorations. We’ll start with the Shepherd Department Store Building.
The Shepherd Department store was once the largest department store in the country, covering an entire block and consuming three buildings. First built in 1880, the store continued to grow and became a mainstay for about 100 years. Unfortunately, like many of the other big department stores (Bon Marche, Filenes, G. Fox) it was undone by the viral spread of malls. Check out the interesting background info on this store and on it and similar ones. Fortunately, Shepherd’s facade has been preserved, with a major portion of the building serving as campuses for URI and CCRI, as well as offices for the RI Department of Education, making the relief of the owl pictured above both prescient and appropriate!
And of course, you can’t help but admire this fierce lion head decorating the building.
He isn’t the only lion. This building, now a dance club, is protected by a line of threatening Panthera Leo – so you’d darn well better heed the sign warning that the rest rooms are only for patrons!
There are also far less threatening carvings or reliefs. With this building that was once a nineteenth-century performance center, we have musical instruments: mandolin and horn on one side and lyre on the other.
On another building, I found these reliefs: a pilgrim-looking guy and the female head from the old dimes. How wise to pick a relief that has rays coming from her head that can also double as pigeon repellers. Note that anchor relief just around the corner.
Between them was a medallion with this cherub.
I was struck by the Providence Performing Arts Center. This gorgeously ornate building covers an enormous amount of territory. It seems like an entire block. The front is impressive, predominating the view at this end of Weybosset Street. The sides are no less impressive. Originally built as Loewe’s Movie Palace in 1928, the theatre opened to an audience of 14,000. Loewe’s went through some tough times in the latter half of the twentieth century before its redesign as a successful multipurpose performance venue. Click here for background on this magnificent building.