Greater City Providence

Community Works Rhode Island to renovate Broadway’s historic “Wedding Cake House”

Community Works Rhode Island has acquired a significant historic residence at 514 Broadway, to be renovated as five affordable condominium units.

January 24, 2011, Providence, RI – Community Works Rhode Island (CWRI) is pleased to announce the acquisition of the architecturally significant building at 514 Broadway in Providence, RI. CWRI will renovate this neglected and foreclosed property into five condominium units that will be set at a price that is affordable to income qualified buyers.

Carrie Marsh, Executive Director of CWRI said “CWRI is thrilled with the opportunity to acquire 514 Broadway, a significant property which retains its beauty, dignity and grace despite decades of neglect. It is a building that captures the interest of many people who wonder at its past and envision its potential. The federal and city funding allocated to this project will allow CWRI to save this foreclosed property and renovate it into bright, beautiful and energy-efficient living spaces, to be sold to homeowners at an affordable level. This project is a key piece of the ongoing transformation of Broadway as a vital main street of the West Side neighborhood.”

The property is believed to have been originally built in 1857, in a very elaborate Italianate Style. The house is often referred to colloquially as the “Wedding Cake House” with its “gingerbread” style of architectural detail. It is graced with a mansard roof, oversized “sunburst” gables, and an ornate tower that provides sweeping views of the city. This building is located in the Broadway Local Historic District, as well as the Broadway-Armory National Register District. CWRI will work with the Providence Revolving Fund as its consultant on the historic preservation.

The property has been in a state of neglect and abandonment for several decades, and was recently foreclosed on. CWRI is grateful to Chace Ruttenberg & Freedman, as well as the Law Offices of Ronald C. Markoff, for legal assistance in acquiring this significant property.

Clark Schoettle, Executive Director of the Providence Revolving Fund said “This is one of the most important buildings in the Broadway-Armory National Register District and it has been seriously threatened for decades by deterioration. It is wonderful that Community Works has purchased the building and will save it from the wrecking ball. This is a difficult project which Community Works is well equipped to handle, given its past experience with similar properties.”

CWRI has a significant amount of experience with restoring buildings of this caliber for income-restricted housing. The organization has owned 18 properties on historic Parkis Avenue in the nearby Elmwood neighborhood. CWRI will soon complete the transformation of this street of Victorian-era urban mansions into an award-winning community with nearly 100 rental and homeownership units which serve a mix of incomes. The Parkis Avenue redevelopment has won two awards from the Providence Preservation Society for neighborhood revitalization.

The property at 514 Broadway will be redeveloped with five affordable condominium units – two will be one bedroom units, two will be two bedroom units, and one will be three bedrooms in size. The construction is expected to be completed in June 2012. The property at 514 Broadway is on a busy business corridor with major bus routes. Neighborhood amenities, schools, social services and downtown Providence and Olneyville are within walking distance.

Mayor Angel Taveras said “I’m very pleased that Community Works has acquired and will renovate this important historic property. This project is a win-win. It will create new housing in our community for working people and families, and give new life to an architecturally significant building with a rich history that has been vacant for almost three decades.”

CWRI has acquired and will renovate the property with the use of federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds (NSP) and HOME funds directed to the project by the City of Providence. The NSP program centers on acquiring and renting or selling foreclosed and abandoned properties that are blighted and negatively affecting the surrounding neighborhood. Redevelopment of such properties strengthens the community and improves property values.

Congressman David Cicilline said “The intention of the NSP and HOME funding is to ensure families have affordable housing options, especially during these difficult financial times. As the former Mayor, I was proud to work to secure those funds because preserving historic buildings like 514 Broadway is part of what makes Providence and Rhode Island unique. Partnerships like the one between the City and Community Works show how community collaboration can mean lasting positive change for Rhode Island families.”

The property at 514 Broadway was listed on the Providence Preservation Society’s (PPS) Most Endangered Properties list in 2010, and its history is described as follows: The house at 514 Broadway was probably built in 1867 by Broadway resident Perez Mason for John Kendrick, a manufacturer of loom harnesses, important to 19th-century textile production. It became the home of buttonhook manufacturer and street-railway tycoon George W. Prentice in the early 1880s. The dress-designing Tirocchi sisters lived there for much of the 20th-century and are the home’s most significant occupants. They catered to wealthy clients, many of whom were wives and daughters of the newly successful industrialists from Providence and Fall River.

The PPS document continues: When Anna Tirocchi died in 1947, Laura Tirocchi Cella wrapped the shop’s records in tissue paper and put them away. They were not disturbed until 1989 when curators from the RISD Museum were invited by her son, Dr. Louis J. Cella Jr., to make their choice of objects for the Museum. When curators entered the house, it was a time capsule from the 1920s and 1930s, as everything from the shop’s operation lay untouched. Such complete documentation of an historical dressmaking business exists nowhere else in the United States.

Kari Lang, Executive Director of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association (WBNA) said “The building at 514 Broadway is a neighborhood treasure and city landmark that had a brilliant past, but recently has been threatened by demolition by neglect by previous owners. Neighbors value this building and want to see it saved. Thankfully, Community Works has come to the rescue with the support of the City of Providence and the Providence Revolving Fund. It is a great relief to know that Community Works now owns the building and will take on its preservation. The WBNA appreciates CWRI’s action and looks forward to watching this great building come back!”

About CWRI: CWRI is an affiliate of NeighborWorks America that was formed by the merger of the Elmwood Foundation and Greater Elmwood Neighborhood Services (GENS). CWRI and its predecessors have served Providence’s South Side for over 30 years, undertaken numerous community development initiatives, created hundreds of units of affordable housing and mixed use development, and invested more than $75 million in to the local community. Carrie M. Marsh is the Executive Director of Community Works Rhode Island. CWRI is located at 693 Broad Street, Providence, RI 02907, 401-273-2330,

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  • I am so pleased to see this. I live on adjacent Bainbridge Avenue and walk/drive by this house on a daily basis. A few times, I’ve chanced a peak through the windows trying to catch a view of the interiors. I had heard talk that the Revolving Fund or Community Works was attempting at purchasing this property, but nothing was done until now.
    Broadway is at a turning point – new businesses are opening, transportation is being enhanced, and properties are being offered at attractive prices. Hopefully this will be the first of many great things in store for the West Broadway/Armory neighborhoods.

  • I’m so glad to see that the building is being rehabbed and put to use again. It was a shame to see it left to deteriorate so badly. It deserves to be lived in, and will enhance the neighborhood.

  • The irony here is that the presence of the dress shop is part of what has lead to the house’s decay. The dormer window to the right of the tower was put there when the dress shop moved in, to provide natural light to the otherwise windowless 3rd floor. In punching a hole through the roof, they created a weak point where the tower intersects the roof line. A few years of neglect, and water is now pouring through the house from that spot. The interior had quite a lot of beautiful finishing that’s been ruined, specifically beautiful inlaid parquet floors and wallpaper.

    Either way, I’m thrilled to hear it’s been saved. There’s no other house like it in the world.

  • An update from the Providence Revolving Fund on this project:

    Thanks to a generous grant the 1772 Foundation made to our capital pool, the Revolving Fund was able to make a $50,000 loan to CommunityWorks Rhode Island, owners of the property. The loan was used to pay for the roof replacement and interior tower stabilization of the Prentice House.

    In addition, the Revolving Fund was able to secure a $10,000 grant from the RI Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission to
    help pay for architectural and engineering plans.

    In the two months since the new roof has been on the building, further water damage to the finishes was halted and the interior has dried out significantly.

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