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Turning a corner on Smith Hill

BY BRUCE LANDIS

Journal Staff Writer - Thursday, March 11, 2004

Masonic%20Temple002.jpg

Journal photo / Glenn Osmundson

The abandoned Masonic Temple, at left next to Veterans Memorial Auditorium, would become a luxury hotel, and the land in the foreground would become a landscaped Avenue of the Arts under porposals that could get a vital go-ahead from the state Captial Center Commission today.

PROVIDENCE -- Three plans are coming together to make over two down-at-the-heels blocks across Francis Street from the State House, an area that is an eyesore near the heart of state government.

The projects would turn the huge, decaying Masonic Temple into a luxury hotel, give the General Assembly more office space and convert lowly Brownell Street into a landscaped Avenue of the Arts and the front circle for the new hotel.

The hotel project could get a significant go-ahead from the state Capital Center Commission today, and the State Properties Committee on Tuesday approved the state Department of Transportation's acquisition of the land for the Avenue of the Arts.

The legislative office building is at an earlier stage. Former Gov. Bruce G. Sundlun, the chief proponent, hopes the state can acquire the land soon, with the building to go up when the cash-strapped state can afford it.

The projects would affect the two blocks just west of the State House and north of Providence Place mall. The area is bounded by Smith, Francis, Hayes and Park Streets. Brownell runs from Francis to Park, dividing the two blocks. The southern block contains the Masonic Temple. Another landmark is the building under construction for the Rhode Island Credit Union on the northern block, just south of Smith Street.

The biggest and most immediate project is the redevelopment of the Masonic Temple, the monolithic structure across the street from the State House and just up the hill from Providence Place.

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The temple, abandoned by the Masons in 1929 while still unfinished, was acquired by the State of Rhode Island in the 1940s. Since then, only graffiti artists have been using the building.

The Capital Center Commission is scheduled to take up the hotel project today, and a top commission official said there is every indication that construction will start on the $60-million-plus project within a few months. The commission appears disposed to approve the 274-room hotel plan from Sage Hospitality Resources, a Denver-based hotel-management and development company that says it specializes in urban projects, both new construction and historic redevelopment.

"It's a really good design, a good developer and some really good architects," and the project has gained the support of historic-preservation advocates, said Deborah Melino-Wender, the commission's executive director.

Sage has done hotel projects in Pittsburgh, Denver, San Diego and Milwaukee, and has managed more than 300 properties in 39 states and the District of Columbia.

Redevelopment of the temple has had false starts before.

But Melino-Wender said all indications are that the hotel will be built. "They are lining up the investors, and are about to move forward," she said. "They've spent a lot of time and money. If it doesn't happen this time, it isn't going to."

Sage has indicated it will start work this spring or summer, Melino-Wender said, with a two-year construction period. The developer has said the plan "protects the historic integrity of this building while creating a viable project" that will benefit both the state and city economies.

The project is to include 10,000 square feet of ballroom and meeting space, a restaurant and a spa. Sage has said it plans to add a floor to the building, but the illustrations it has displayed show little change, suggesting that the temple's exterior would end up looking largely as the Masons intended.

The Capital Center Commission, whose members are appointed by the governor, the mayor and the Providence Foundation, has supervised the redevelopment of the section of Providence between downtown and the State House, including the development of Providence Place mall.

The commission will hear recommendations from its Design Review Committee and from the public, and is set to act on the plan during its meeting at 12:15 this afternoon, in the first-floor conference room of the Commerce Center, 30 Exchange Terrace.

The Transportation Department plans to improve the area in front of the new hotel by rebuilding Brownell Street, creating a circular driveway in front of the hotel, and landscaping the area.

To enable the work, the State Properties Committee on Tuesday approved the condemnation of four parcels across the street from the temple and Veterans Memorial Auditorium, at an estimated cost of just over $1 million. The parcels total less than half an acre.

The project will also include improvements along Francis and Park Streets.

The Transportation Department said it expects to negotiate the price of the land with the owners. The agency said joint owners are listed as Salvatore Butera and trustee Jane A. Hawkins, the late wife of John P. Hawkins, the former Senate majority leader and Rhode Island Lottery director.

The lots are on the north side of Brownell Street. Brownell Street has been known as Avenue of the Arts for more than a year.

Former Governor Sundlun, who chaired the legislative office building committee created by the General Assembly, wants to put a legislative office building and an underground parking garage on the block north of the temple, next to the credit union.

Sundlun would like to have the office building constructed "as soon as funds are available, but with the budget being in the condition it is, we've got the money to buy the land, and that's about all we can do now -- secure the site."

He said designs and cost estimates aren't available yet, but he has suggested to Governor Carcieri that the project could go forward with Whitestone Realty, a New York investment-banking firm. But Sundlun said Tuesday that "the legislative office building is a long way off."

Under Sundlun's plan, the state would buy about an acre and a half between Brownell Street and the credit union; the land is now split among seven owners.

"The point of acquiring the land is, it's available," Sundlun said. "The land should be reserved for government purposes, so you don't wake up some morning and find a bunch of gas stations and Dunkin' Donuts" stores there.

Sundlun denied a rumor that surfaced during the State Properties Committee discussion, when someone suggested that Sundlun himself might have an interest in the land where the legislative office building would go. "Absolutely not," he said, adding that he has "no investment" in the property.

He said his committee looked at three possible sites: the temple, the building across Smith Street from the State House that now houses the Transportation Department, and a new building. But the temple seemed destined to become a hotel, he said, and it would have been expensive to move the Transportation Department and convert its former home for legislative use.

He urged that the state buy the property and "preserve Capitol Hill for government use, as much as possible."

Masonic%20Temple.jpg

Masonic Temple Hotel Rendering

Image From: Providence Business News

From The Providence Journal

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It's amazing that a building could stand that long without being used. Another reason to believe that Providence has yet to see its finest hour!

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This is great news for Providence!

Haha. I though Detroit held the record of the building that has been vacant the longest. I'm also surprised that it could stand that long without being used. Some of the buildings here are barely standing & they have only been closed for 15 years.

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I am shocked at how much the Masonic Temple in Providence looks like the one here in Salt Lake.

Falling down and covered in graffitti? :lol:

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Long-awaited makeover of Masonic Temple to start in May

By JACK PERRY

projo.com staff writer - Tuesday, April 6, 2004

Masonic%20Temple.jpg

PROVIDENCE -- The transformation of the landmark Masonic Temple, unfinished and abandoned more than seven decades ago, into a luxury four-star hotel will start next month, officials announced this morning.

The 274-room Renaissance Providence Masonic Temple Hotel, a $77-million rehabilitation project, should be open in the spring of 2006, according to Sage Hospitality Resources, the Denver company that will develop and operate the hotel.

Principals from Sage today joined Governor Carcieri, former Gov. Lincoln Almond and others in formally announcing a starting time for the project, which has been in the planning stages for more than a year.

"They say good things come to those who wait. You've certainly waited a long time for this project. We are ready to start," said Ken Geist, executive vice president of development for Sage.

The temple, which sits near the State House and has become a canvas for graffiti artists, has long perplexed city and state officials who wondered how it could be put to good use.

Carcieri recalled sending the Capitol police to the temple after looking out his window one day to see three kids on the roof, two of them dangling their feet over the edge while another painted on the building.

"We are converting a symbol of despair into one of civic pride and prosperity," he said.

Officials say the hotel will expand the city's renaissance and help boost tourism. The hotel will generate 200 construction jobs and 136 permanent jobs. It is also expected to generate $75 million in new taxes over the next 20 years.

Carcieri praised his predecessor, Almond, who started the effort to turn the building, bought by the state in 1945, into a luxury hotel.

Almond said he had to be convinced years ago of the feasibilty of transforming the building.

"As a governor looking out the window, I never would have dramed the Masonic Temple could have been a hotel," Almond said.

Sage President and CEO Walter Isenberg said the project would not have been feasible without the state and federal tax breaks the company will receive for rehabilitating the historic property. The state passed legislation for the tax breaks two years ago.

The hotel will also feature 10,000 square feet of ballroom and meeting space, a restaurant and lounge.

From The Providence Journal

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76 years later, work will resume on the Masonic Temple

When construction is complete in two years, it will be a luxury hotel.

BY GREGORY SMITH

Journal Staff Writer 4/7/2004

PROVIDENCE -- In a celebrated raising of the dead, construction workers are expected to show up in 3 1/2 weeks to begin rebuilding the moldering mausoleum known as the Masonic Temple.

The never-finished derelict building across the street from the State House that many Rhode Islanders have loved to hate for years is about to be resuscitated and rebuilt as a luxury Marriott Renaissance Hotel.

Left roofless and deteriorating, its windows boarded or bricked-up, the only usable parts of the state-owned temple are the foundation, some structural steel framework and 3 1/2 walls, according to Kenneth J. Geist, executive vice president of Sage Hospitality Resources of Denver, the developer.

It was 76 years ago, on the eve of the Great Depression, that a dream died there for the Scottish Rite of Masons. The Masons began erecting a monumental neoclassical headquarters complex that included the adjacent Veterans Memorial Building, but they ran out of money and gave up.

The celebration of new life began yesterday, as Governor Carcieri announced commencement of the project at the Veterans Memorial Building, which is now known as the VMA Arts and Cultural Center.

"They say good things come to those who wait," remarked Geist, whose company has just obtained a letter of commitment for a bank loan for the $77-million project.

Although some have had a low opinion of the temple and its possibilities and had called for it to be razed, there was no such talk yesterday at Carcieri's gathering of state officials, historical preservationists, business executives and others.

The focus was on the temple's historical significance and how its reconstruction is linked to a renovation of the VMA Arts and Cultural Center.

"This building is beautiful. It's really beautiful," gushed former Gov. Lincoln C. Almond, whose administration found a way to save the temple at little upfront cost to the state by having private enterprise convert it to a hotel. "It doesn't look that great right now, but it's really beautiful."

Michael McMahon, executive director of the state Economic Development Corporation, said the project will "turn an embarrassing eyesore into a shining example of what can be done in Rhode Island."

The limestone and brick temple walls are in poor condition and must be shored up, the bricks repointed and the foundation reinforced.

"Water has pretty much destroyed the integrity of that building," Geist said later.

"We're going to build a steel cage around the building and attach the building to it," he said. "Then we'll do all the repairs and take the steel cage down."

The parking lane of Francis Street will be blocked off for about one year for the project, and pedestrians will have to use the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street.

Sage plans to build a 274-room hotel, with a ballroom, ground-floor restaurant and lounge, meeting rooms, and in the penthouse, a fitness center, a concierge lounge for preferred guests, and presidential and vice presidential suites. The scheduled opening is April or May 2006.

The $77-million pricetag would be covered by a $41-million loan from Fleet Bank, a subsidiary of Bank of America, which is scheduled to close in about 90 days; a $35.5-million equity contribution from Sage and its corporate sponsor, Kimberly-Clark Corp.; and a $500,000 state grant.

Of the equity portion, $20 million in cash would be raised from the sale of historical rehabilitation tax credits granted by the state and federal governments. The tax credits are handed over to corporations -- in this case, Kimberly-Clark, the manufacturer of household products -- and high-net-worth individuals who use them to reduce their income taxes.

The hotel will pay taxes and create jobs, but over time Rhode Island would forgo $18 million in other income-tax revenue as the result of the project, through the historical rehabilitation tax-credit program. After federal taxes, Sage would net $10 million from the $18 million state credit, according to Geist.

There used to be a V-shaped building that linked the temple to the VMA Arts and Cultural Center, but the state tore it down. A new addition will fill that space, accommodating guest rooms on the upper floors and a ground-floor entrance to a hotel ballroom.

Under its agreement with the state, Sage would pay $225,000 to acquire a portion of the basement at the VMA Arts and Cultural Center for use as its ballroom. The area -- called Downstairs at the VMA and used for fundraisers by arts groups -- was intended to be a banquet hall for the Masons.

The hotel project provoked trepidation as well as excitement at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium Foundation, which currently leases the auditorium and other space from the state for performing-arts groups.

The foundation was excited about the possibilities of having a hotel and more potential event-goers next door and some related building improvements, but it was anxious about the ballroom's effect on the renowned acoustics of the auditorium above.

Sage plans in effect to build a box around the ballroom in order to shield the auditorium from sound, vibration and odors from its kitchens, and two acoustical engineering firms have verified that the box will provide more than enough soundproofing.

"We're going to put about 6 feet of concrete between us and the symphony," Geist said.

There is a tentative plan for the state to turn over the entire Veterans Memorial Building to the foundation so the foundation can raise money for its refurbishment.

Before that happens, the state would repair the auditorium roof and replace a roof ventilator, install a sprinkler system and ensure the auditorium conforms to fire and safety codes. Sage's $225,000 payment would help to defray that cost.

Sage has agreed to contribute $100,000 to the construction of an elevator for the auditorium, if the foundation can raise the rest of the $300,000 cost. If the foundation fails, according to Geist, it would be able to use the hotel's ballroom elevator, which won't reach the auditorium balcony.

And the developer has agreed to contribute $200,000 for the refurbishment and/or replacement of the auditorium's tattered and broken seats, if the foundation can raise the balance of the $500,000 cost of that job.

From The Providence Journal

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State plan would enhance area around Temple, Vets auditorium

A $4-million DOT project would dramatically upgrade the public spaces around the Masonic Temple complex and refurbish the landscaping and sidewalks encircling the State House.

BY GREGORY SMITH

Journal Staff Writer - Friday, April 9, 2004

PROVIDENCE -- The little elbow of a street in front of Veterans Memorial Auditorium is to be dramatically widened to become an inviting plaza to suit both the auditorium and the planned conversion of the Masonic Temple to a luxury hotel.

Preliminary state plans presented to the Capital Center Commission yesterday show the plaza would be open to traffic and would feature a 40-foot-wide pedestrian island protected by cast-iron posts. The island would double as a spot for public art and a function space for the auditorium.

A $4-million project prepared by the state Department of Transportation promises to dramatically upgrade the appearance and functionality of the public spaces around the Masonic Temple complex and refurbish the landscaping and sidewalks encircling the State House.

The plaza in front of the auditorium, which would continue to carry its new street name as Avenue of the Arts, would have elegant installations such as reproductions of period streetlamps and cast-iron tree grates.

Curb to curb, Avenue of the Arts is 20 feet to 22 feet wide now, but the plaza would be made 100 feet wide at its widest point, with a more narrow neck where it intersects with Francis Street.

While it would be made much wider, and would be designed to continue to serve as a queueing point for school buses discharging and picking up event-goers, DOT aims to make the plaza as pedestrian friendly as possible, according to J. Michael Bennett, DOT deputy chief engineer.

The surface of the plaza would be colored, stamped concrete in a herringbone pattern with different-colored concrete bands that would serve as guides for traffic flow.

The state has had trouble maintaining the decorative brick street and sidewalk surfaces in the vicinity of Providence Place mall and Waterplace Park, but Bennett said the 8-inch-thick stamped concrete of the plaza will be durable.

A second pedestrian island at the Park Street end of the plaza would feature a granite seat wall -- a bench built into a wall.

And a third, smaller pedestrian island with a granite seat wall and three flagpoles would demarcate the valet parking pull-up at the hotel's front entrance.

A scored concrete sidewalk with posts would be installed in front of the auditorium and hotel, and a precast concrete block retaining wall topped by plantings on the north side of the plaza. The surface of the wall would be made to resemble the auditorium's exterior.

As state officials see it, the DOT project is a necessary enhancement of the State House and a complement to long-planned improvements in the vicinity.

In a $77-million undertaking, Sage Hospitality Resources, of Denver, is about to begin rebuilding the decrepit, state-owned Masonic Temple as a luxury hotel. The state-owned Veterans Memorial Auditorium is due to be renovated, and the Rhode Island Credit Union is building a new headquarters.

The DOT project is scheduled to be done by fall 2005, in advance of the planned opening of the Marriott Renaissance hotel at the Masonic Temple in spring 2006. Many of its details must be approved by the Capital Center Commission, but no vote was taken yesterday.

In other aspects of the project, the DOT would:

Realign and resurface Park Street, moving it 10 to 12 feet to the west in order to accommodate the future construction of a loading dock for the auditorium and to facilitate handicapped access to the auditorium. The sidewalk on the west side of Park Street would be eliminated.

"It's a shoehorn," Bennett said of realigning the street and squeezing it closer to Route 95. "It just barely fits, but it does fit."

The sidewalk on the auditorium side of Park would be widened except at the point where the loading dock would exist. There it would be narrowed to about four feet.

Create a turning lane 10 to 11 feet wide in the center of Francis Street for northbound traffic to enter the plaza.

Rebuild the 20-year-old brick sidewalks surrounding the State House, replant the privet hedge on the State House side of Francis Street, and replace missing trees and shrubs on the State House side of Gaspee and Smith streets.

Install reproduction streetlamps on Hayes Street and replace the sidewalk on the north side of Hayes in order "to give it more of a neighborhood atmosphere," Bennett said.

The sidewalk at the corner of Hayes and Francis would be enlarged in order to better direct pedestrians into a repainted crosswalk headed for the front of Providence Place. As it is, Bennett said, pedestrians crossing at that point tend to wind up at a rear service door of the Cheesecake Factory restaurant in the mall.

Install posts on the north side of Station Park, the greensward across the street from Providence Place, to keep taxicabs from parking on the grass.

In order to accommodate the plaza, the state plans to acquire four parcels on the north side of Avenue of the Arts, including a boarded-up, derelict house with a parking lot to the rear. The house would be razed.

State officials have talked about the possibility of building a state office building between Avenue of the Arts and the Rhode Island Credit Union, and Bennett said the plaza project would leave more than enough room for that.

From The Providence Journal

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Derelict for 75 years, Temple gets a new life

Abandoned in 1929, when the Masons left it unfinished, the building will be a luxury hotel when work is done.

BY BRUCE LANDIS

Journal Staff Writer | Friday, July 16, 2004

PROVIDENCE -- After years of false starts, failed plans and naysaying, the renovation of the historic but tattered Masonic Temple has begun.

The project will apparently bring to an end the years of the building's decay since the Masons walked away from the unfinished Temple in 1929.

On Wednesday, Denver-based developers Sage Hospitality Resources began pouring concrete into 45-foot-deep holes drilled next to the Temple. The start of the $77-million project was inconspicuous, taking place in the parking lot immediately south of the Temple.

Reinforced with steel, a dozen of the 2-foot-thick concrete caissons will parallel three sides of the building. They will be the foundation for a steel external skeleton that will hold up the shell of the building while contractors demolish its interior and replace it with a hotel.

Sage project manager William Perrett said the result will look like "a giant Erector set" on the outside of the hotel. "When you see it, you will not believe it."

He said the steel structure, which will rise as high as the Temple, is needed "so when we demolish the interior of the building, the outside won't collapse."

Perrett said the bottom three floors are solid, but that the fifth and sixth floors need support. Horizontal beams will run from the external steel framework through some of the Temple's windows, allowing the shell of the building to be supported on both the inside and outside.

Erecting the steel framework around the Temple will begin in four to six weeks and will take about three months, he said, followed by another three months of demolition. Then the rest of the project can go forward.

Sage plans a 274-room luxury Marriott Renaissance hotel with a ballroom, ground-floor restaurant and lounge, meeting rooms and a fitness center. The opening will be in April or May 2006.

When Sage turned up in 2002, then-Gov. Lincoln C. Almond called the plan "the last gasp" for the never-used Temple, which had attracted a few failed development plans. The Temple remained in the hands of pigeons, vandals and graffiti artists, and Almond said he was thinking about demolition.

The Sage renovation is being managed by Phelps Program Management, a subsidiary of the Hensel Phelps Construction Co., of Greeley, Colo.

Perrett said Sage has been working on the project for 28 months, dealing with city and state officials, getting permits and financing, and designing the project.

Sage is a large hotel-management and development company. Hensel Phelps is a national construction company. Among other jobs, said Sandy Rotunda, the Phelps project manager, it was renovating the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., when the hijacked plane smashed into it on Sept. 11, 2001.

Sage plans to construct an additional building between the Temple and Veterans Memorial Auditorium next door, for more hotel rooms and reception space and for a link between the two buildings.

The developers have said that upward of $30 million in local, state and federal tax breaks are essential to make the project possible. Officials have said they are delighted at the prospect of replacing an enduring eyesore across the street from the State House with an elegant hotel, without sacrificing the building. The city also agreed to a property-tax stabilization agreement with the developers.

Sage's major financial partner is Kimberly-Clark, the household-products giant, whose products range from Kleenex tissues and Huggies diapers to surgical gowns. Together, Sage and Kimberly-Clark put up $35 million, Sage said in March. Kimberly-Clark said it was attracted to the program by the federal tax credits it will earn.

The other major leg of the financing is a $41-million loan from Fleet Bank, a subsidiary of Bank of America.

Perrett and Rotunda also said they wanted to counter criticism that the project isn't hiring local workers. He said that the architects are from New York and the engineers are also from out of state, but that local companies will do most of the construction work.

They said the developers have found state and city officials helpful, and Perrett mentioned that the state Department of Transportation has been "fabulous" to work with. The DOT is rebuilding the Avenue of the Arts, the short street in front of the Temple and Veterans Memorial Auditorium, widening and landscaping it and building an entrance circle for the hotel.

Referring to J. Michael Bennett, the DOT deputy chief engineer, Perrett said, "I have his home number -- whoever heard of that?"

From The Providence Journal

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Eyesore goes to make way for new plaza

"We're going to make this place look like a million dollars," says J. Michael Bennett, the state Department of Transportation's deputy chief engineer.

BY BRUCE LANDIS Journal Staff Writer | December 17, 2004

PROVIDENCE -- The state has started work on $5 million in improvements across the street from the State House, to support Veterans Memorial Auditorium and the conversion of the Masonic Temple into a hotel.

The project is part of an effort to link the downtown and the Providence Place mall with the State House and the Smith Hill neighborhood by replacing an eyesore -- the tattered temple, along with the rundown street in front of it and a tired house -- with something attractive and inviting.

The most visible sign of the project's start was the demolition on Tuesday of a house at the corner of Francis Street and the Avenue of the Arts, across the street from the temple and the auditorium, and excavation on that property.

J. Michael Bennett, the official in charge, said the job will involve the conversion of the down-at-the-heels street into something landscaped and decorative, "to make this a place people want to walk around."

"We're going to make this place look like a million dollars," said Bennett, the state Department of Transportation's deputy chief engineer.

The Avenue of the Arts is to be widened to form a plaza, with a decorative but durable stamped concrete surface, he said. It will be usable both for vehicles and outdoor festivals, he said, and provide a bus drop-off area for students going to the auditorium.

Bennett said the resurrection of the temple into a luxury hotel is "an extremely complex project," and that his agency's project right in front of it makes cooperation mandatory.

"You have to be very careful who does what and when," he said.

Sage Hospitality Resources, a Denver-based hotel-management and development company that specializes in urban construction and historic redevelopment, is rebuilding the temple into a 274-room hotel at a cost of more than $60 million.

To save the temple's historic exterior, the company says it will erect a supporting structure of steel beams inside and outside the masonry walls to keep them from collapsing while it rebuilds the interior.

Bennett said the project will also include moving Park Street, which runs between the auditorium and Route 95, 13 feet closer to the highway, to make room for a loading dock at the rear of the auditorium. That will let trucks unload material conveniently to the auditorium stage, he said.

Bennett said the improvements will be paid for mostly with federal money from the state's highway improvement grants.

The DOT said the owners of the property taken for the project were Salvatore Butera and trustee Jane A. Hawkins, the late wife of John P. Hawkins, the former Senate majority leader and Rhode Island Lottery director.

Bennett said the property the DOT bought for the project cost $1.1 million. He said there are several other parcels nearby on the same block that the DOT didn't need and remain in private hands. He said some of that property is also owned by Butera and Hawkins. The other owners include Patrick T. Conley, the Providence-based lawyer, real-estate investor and historian.

The temple is the monolithic structure across Friendship street from the State House and just up the hill from Providence Place. Abandoned unfinished by the Masons in 1929, it was acquired by the State of Rhode Island in the 1940s and has been slipping further into dilapidation ever since. Since then, it has served mostly as a canvas for graffiti artists.

From The Providence Journal

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mc1.jpg

Journal photo / Sandor Bodo

Ironworker Dustin Carey of Pawtucket works in a cherry picker on the steel support frame of the Masonic Temple, which is being renovated as a hotel.

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Skeleton key to saving Temple

With a bracing system on three sides of the building, crews can build a new structure inside the shell.

BY BRUCE LANDIS Journal Staff Writer | February 24, 2005

PROVIDENCE -- That building that seems to be going up around the Masonic Temple, across from the State House, is really a temporary structure to hold the old building up.

Hold the old building up, that is, until workers finish the new building inside the old one.

When they do industrial-scale historic restoration like this, you can find yourself sounding like Alice in Wonderland.

Sage Hospitality Resources, which is converting the Masonic Temple building into a luxury hotel, is going to a great deal of trouble to keep the brick and limestone exterior intact while it builds a new, 272-room hotel inside.

Along the way, the temple will become "a 100-percent empty shell," William W. Perrett, Sage's project director, said yesterday. "Then we build a new building inside and connect it to the outside."

That means "putting a support system on three sides of the building," he said. The structural bracing system consists of two rows of steel columns, about 80 feet high and linked together horizontally and diagonally by steel beams. Below ground, the columns rest on steel-reinforced concrete foundations more than 40 feet deep.

Much of the way around the building, the skeleton supports steel bands that follow the temple's wall at several levels. Threaded rods through the wall tie them to similar steel bands on the inside, where there is another temporary steel skeleton. This arrangement makes the temple wall the filling in a steel sandwich.

Where things are in the way, such as the limestone half-columns that face the State House, the inner and outer steel structures are linked with steel beams passing through windows and other openings.

"The outside walls are really tough," Perrett said, partly because they had to bear the weight of three wide auditoriums inside. But without the supporting structure, they would still be in danger of collapse during the demolition and replacement of the interior, Perrett said.

Most of the fourth wall, facing the Veterans Memorial Auditorium to the west, was lost in a previous demolition attempt.

The Masons abandoned the temple, unfinished, in 1929. The state ended up holding the building, but it was unable to find a use for it. Sage, a Denver-based hotel developer, turned up in 2002 with a restoration plan.

It would have been easier to demolish the old building, but the project's financing depends on state and federal tax credits for historic preservation.

"Without the historic tax credits, the deal wouldn't work," Perrett said. He first saw the temple in 1977, he said. "There were no historic tax credits" then, he said, and the project was plainly impractical.

"I couldn't get out of town fast enough," he said. Now he's running the project that should turn the temple from an eyesore to an attractive link between downtown and the State House.

AS THE RESTORATION gets going, the exterior looks better than usual in some places and worse in others.

The northeast corner, the one closest to the State House, looks pretty good, because Sage's contractors have cleaned it as a test for the rest of the limestone, Perrett said.

The recipe for cleaning an old limestone building, Perrett said, goes like this: Soak it with water for two days, then give it a power wash, "but not too powerful," then spray it with glass beads. The limestone cleaned up nicely.

But around the corner, on the front of the building, the limestone facade looks battered in places.

That's because of another test of the limestone blocks. Perrett described the test this way: The expert "whacks it and tells us when it's bad," leaving several failed blocks with shattered faces.

Happily, the Masons left spare temple parts behind. Perrett said a quantity of limestone, some of it elaborately carved, was never installed and was left behind in the basement when the Masons dropped the project. He said Sage will use it to replace the failed blocks on the outside.

The only thing wrong with the arrangement, he joked, is that the extra limestone now occupies what used to be his parking space.

From The Providence Journal

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It's worth going to the original article to look at the photo, BTW. Bob Thayer has a great shot of the lit facade against a dark blue night sky and the capital in the distance. Nice... I've got to get over there and do some shooting (when it gets a bit warmer :-) ).

- Garris

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That pic is online, but ProJo does such a piss-poor job of resizing their images, it's not even worth posting. It's all pixelated, they need a good graphics person over there.

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The steel bracing system surrounding the Masonic Temple downtown has been completed to support the 2-foot-thick outer limestone wall, while workers begin demolishing the interior of the building from the top down. Sage Hospitality Resources, the Denver-based developer, plans to start rebuilding the interior this summer.

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From the State House:

2005-0319-Masonic-001.jpg

From Francis Street:

2005-0319-Masonic-002.jpg

Temple of Junerism? :huh:

2005-0319-Masonic-003.jpg

2005-0319-Masonic-004.jpg

2005-0319-Masonic-005.jpg

2005-0319-Masonic-006.jpg

The sign on the house says "Luxury Apartments for Lease." Let's see, right across the street from the busiest auto entrance to Providence Place, and right in front of one of the city's largest construction projects. Damn, why did I leave my checkbook at home!?

PS: What is up with the flashing lights on Hayes Street, I felt like friggin Frogger, can we turn the traffic signals on please?

2005-0319-Masonic-007.jpg

Avenue of the Arts:

2005-0319-Masonic-008.jpg

From the roof of Providence Place:

2005-0319-Masonic-009.jpg

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Good to see the "Temple of Junerism" moving along nicely. Great pics!!

I noticed on Friday they were removing a big chunk of that box on the roof (the big one that was covered in graffiti).

Will the interior have any historic details or have they completely gutted the inside?

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I noticed on Friday they were removing a big chunk of that box on the roof (the big one that was covered in graffiti).

Will the interior have any historic details or have they completely gutted the inside?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I noticed that too. You can see in the last picture from the mall, that parts of it are crumbling. I was surpirsed to see workers there on a Saturday.

It looks like they've totally gutted the place, and after 76 years of sitting vacant I can't imagine there was anything left inside to save. I'm not sure if the Masons even ever got to the point of detailing the inside. If there's staircases or strong architectural details (stong as in stone) I assume they will attempt to rehab them if possible.

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I'm not sure the interior was really ever completed to any degree. Wasn't it essentially near hollow?

Thanks for the great shots. I personally think this is the most exciting architecture project in all of Providence (if not nearly as important as the others like OTW, Parcel 2, etc. economically and from a long term viability standpoint). Can you all imagine how awesome this building will look at night lit up and with all its windows? Fantastic.

It'll be a great visual ambassador for the city as well. Think about visitors coming down 95 at night and seeing this lit up with the VMA and then see the Westin twin towers also lit up behind them, with the financial and capitol district in the distance. Great stuff.

- Garris

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I'm not sure the interior was really ever completed to any degree.  Wasn't it essentially near hollow? 

Thanks for the great shots.  I personally think this is the most exciting architecture project in all of Providence (if not nearly as important as the others like OTW, Parcel 2, etc. economically and from a long term viability standpoint).  Can you all imagine how awesome this building will look at night lit up and with all its windows?  Fantastic. 

It'll be a great visual ambassador for the city as well.  Think about visitors coming down 95 at night and seeing this lit up with the VMA and then see the Westin twin towers also lit up behind them, with the financial and capitol district in the distance.  Great stuff.

- Garris

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I love the way the structure looks now - It would be rather cool if they left the steel exo-skeleton permenently supporting the masonry exterior walls and created some vast, dramatic interior spaces. Now THAT could give us some incredible contemporary architecture to write about!

But I agree with you Garris, taking away the archi-student thinking, the former Temple of Junerism is going to be pretty spectacular.

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I'm not sure if the Masons even ever got to the point of detailing the inside.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I've been inside, and all the details are really on the outside. There wasn't much there but the shell. The Masons put all their money into finishing the VMA section, and never finished the bigger side. I have photos of the interior from 2002 on my site: ArtInRuins: Mason Building

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