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.
Last weekend, Yang and I paid a twilight visit to the Swan Point Cemetery in Providence. It’s a beautiful cemetery on the bay, encircled and populated by graceful old trees. The graveyard is designed in the Romantic style initiated by the Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge and emulated by others, such as Forest Hills in Jamaica Plain, the Lowell Cemetery (guess where), and Sleepy Hollow in Concord – Tarrytown, too!
This style is characterized by sloping greens; stately, shady trees; ponds; and monuments created to reflect both the sadness of loss and the serenity of eternal peace. Keats and Shelley would just die, so to speak, for a sojourn here.
This cemetery is surrounded on the street side by a stone wall of large rocks. So, it captures the New England tradition of dry stone walls, but adds solemn majesty by using boulders as its dry stones. I love this configuration near the entrance. We came here close to dusk because Rosie and ‘Tasha kept us out later than usual walking in the yard. So, we had to hurry a bit and were unable to stroll and take photographs at our leisure.
The posture and positioning of many of these statues seem to tell a moral about death. Perhaps women were usually chosen to immortalize in keeping with Poe’s dictum that the saddest thing in the world is the death of a beautiful woman. Each of these beautiful figures seems to convey a message back to the living. This woman looks down on our world, bearing a veiled gift. The broken column signifies a life cut off. I’m not sure where I learned about the column, but I do remember it was a legitimate source.
Here, a woman peers off into the beyond, urging us to look upward and outward, past this vale of tears – or is that veil of tears? Either makes sense in this context. She also holds an anchor on her far side. Does it symbolize that she is anchored to us, though she is looking to attain something beyond the earthly realm – or is she from a seafaring family?
I’m particularly interested in this figure, looking down at us from the heights of a pillar, perhaps symbolizing she is no longer anchored to this earth but soars above us toward the empyrean. Still, her gaze of concern is fixed on us suffering mortals below.
I found this stylized monument of an angel particularly intriguing. Yang thought it had an Egyptian look, but I find it much more art deco. It seems to flow down into the ground – or does it shoot upward?I didn’t have a chance to check the date on it to see if it fit into the deco period. I’m so impressed by its soft but still clean lines.
The weathering of this limestone angel blurs and softens it’s features so that it seems ethereal – and more than a little eerie. What do you think? What does she perceive hovering above even her? Don’t blink!
The cemetery has other lovely qualities. There is a pond surrounded by hedges, but I didn’t get any pictures this time. We had to rush. However, I did get a shot of this gazebo. What a wonderful place to sit and read. Yang graded papers here, while I attended a Renaissance Conference in town one time.
I have to add that there are some impressive selections of Celtic crosses. Some in family groupings.
I especially loved the balustrades or curved stone work surrounding or leading up to family burial plots. The first of these pictures shows a lovely plaza surrounded by a bowed stone rail. I remember when there were actually a barrier of tall yews forming a second circle inside the balustrade. You couldn’t see within the green cavern it created. One of the grounds-people told me they had to cut down the yews because weird stuff went on in there at times. This was some time ago that I heard this tale. I hadn’t heard any tales about these gently curving steps and barrier, leading to this prominent family’s plot. I do love the graceful shape.
Of course, here are the pictures that all you faithful Lovecraftians are waiting for: Mr. Lovecraft’s family plot and monuments. We actually had some shots of me next to the monuments, but I looked awful enough to give a Shuggoth the willies. So, vanity prevailed and I ditched them. You may notice that there were deposits of presents by Mr. H.P.’s grave. If you look carefully on the gravestone, you can see that his birthday had been just a few days before.
There are lots of beautiful scenes that I hadn’t time to photograph that twilight, but seeing that I couldn’t fit in all the wonderful images that I took this trip, I don’t feel too bad now about not getting them. There should be another trip, maybe when the fall colors are aflame. Won’t that be a treat to see? So, with this proud, victorious angel, I will bid you adieu and slip away into the gloaming – whatever the heck a gloaming is!