Preserve Mineral Spring Ave.

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Here is a column I wrote precisely 17 years ago. At the end is a mini-column relating to an early version of what turned out to be the GTECH building.

***

Preserve Mineral Spring Avenue
April 1, 1999

TWO YEARS AGO, in “Turning the tide of crudscape,” April 17, 1997, I described the transformation of Mineral Spring Avenue: “Today, it is a veritable museum of early crudscape (suburbanologist James Howard Kunstler’s evocative word). Any day now, I expect someone to nominate Mineral Spring Avenue to the National Register of Historic Places.”

Well, that has not happened, at least not yet. But a few days ago, I got a call from Amanda Trellis, executive director of the North Providence Preservation Society, who asked me whether I’d like to attend their next meeting. She said that NPPS had done a survey that showed that residents of the town believed that it was “losing its sense of place.”

I bit my tongue to keep from asking, “What sense of place?” and told her I’d be there. The meeting was on Tuesday at the Sal Mancini Memorial Community Center, on Mineral Spring.

I know Mineral Spring Avenue quite well, and have long believed that with a few modest changes it could become almost as charming as Benefit Street (the one in Pawtucket, not Providence). For now, drivers stuck in traffic can enjoy long views of scenic North Providence from the crests of the big hills over which Mineral Spring gracefully climbs. By dusk, the delicate pattern of overhead utility wires fades from view. After dark, you can detect the sparkle of the surrounding metropolis beyond the avenue’s many small but eager neon and backlit signs.

I had planned to tell the citizens of North Providence how to revitalize Mineral Spring:

First, mandate that shops be built next to the street with parking in the rear; and then set up a Mineral Spring Design Review Commission that would have the power to dangle variances in return for a new generation of Shore’ses, Douglas Drugs and Ponderosa Steakhouses in a diversity of post-neohistorical styles.

But NPPS was way out in front of me. Ms. Trellis turned on a projector and there, shining brightly, was a colorful slide containing a cross-section of a block on Mineral Spring laid out just as I had planned to propose. Slide followed slide, revealing a series of streetscapes of elegant shops with suburban assault vehicles parked in the rear, permitting drivers still parked in traffic to drink in the cupolas, balustrades and colonnades attached to the traditional ‘burban façades. There were even pedestrians in white shoes and pompadours, or stretch pants and big hair.

I could barely contain my excitement. “You all must be avid Dr. Downtown fans!” I gushed.

“Not exactly. We contacted Andres Duany,” she said, and he guided them through a session of what she said he called “suburban schlock therapy.”

“How much did he charge?” I asked. She said his fee was only $750,000. “What!” I exclaimed. “But how did you raise the money?” I half expected her to concoct some bogus bequest from the Sal Mancini Fund, but instead she described the loan North Providence had received on the basis of revenue expected from the future sale of development rights on the right-of-way to cleared when Bill Warner relocates the Route 15 underpass over the Route 146 overpass.

“But I’ve never heard of that plan,” I protested.

“You will when the North Providence Foundation rams it onto the TIP,” said Ms. Trellis, “after Mineral Spring is named to the National Register of Historic Places.” “When is that supposed to be?” “Day after tomorrow,” she said. Which, of course, is today.

***

Parcel 9, Parcel 9, Parcel 9

The front page of last Saturday’s Journal contained news of a proposal to build a retail complex on Parcel 9 in Capital Center, between Providence Place and Waterplace Park. On an inside page was a drawing that seemed to show a modernist glass box. I took an immediate dislike to it, but have since talked to many people who said they could not tell from the sketch what the building is supposed to look like.

This is not surprising. Architectural sketches today are, I believe, often intended not to reveal but to conceal a proposed building’s appearance – on the reasonable grounds that, in the case of a modernist design, the public would object if they knew what the architect was planning to inflict upon them.

Many people told me they were withholding judgment on the building, and so am I. I hope and pray with all my heart that the sketch does not, in fact, truly express the building’s appearance, because if it does, and is actually built that way, it would end all hope that Capital Center can avoid the hodgepodgization that has degraded so many American cities.

Detailed drawings of the project will be shown at the next meeting of the Capital Center’s design review panel on April 12, 7:30 a.m., at 40 Exchange Terrace, in downtown Providence. Please attend.

Copyright © 1999. LMG Rhode Island Holdings, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Record Number: MERLIN_709408

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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