A while back, R.I. Supreme Court Justice Gilbert Indeglia, whom I’d met after giving a talk on architecture in Kingston, near URI’s main campus, a couple of years ago, invited me to tour the Providence County Courthouse. I’d been there before. I had a served on a grand jury – where I’d heard the gory details of, among others, a case in which the suspect ran over his victim with a car (back and forth, in her own driveway). And for my first 14 years in Providence, living on Benefit Street, I had frequently used the courthouse as an elevator from South Main Street to Benefit, five stories up. It is one of my favorite buildings in Providence, perhaps second only to the the Rhode Island State House on Smith Hill beyond downtown.
My tour was delayed by writing Lost Providence, in which the courthouse figures (even though it has not been lost). Before the manuscript came back to me today with copyediting suggestions, I had time to take the tour.
Justice Indeglia and Deputy Sheriff Everett LaMountain (now there’s a lofty moniker!) took me around the building, showing me a host of recently renovated courtrooms, from whose furniture was removed decades of penknifed signatures and other art, replacing old carpet and refurbishing some hundreds or thousands of square feet of mahogany. The original beauty of the courtrooms (in my opinion never really dimmed that much by time’s vicissitudes) has been restored by a craftsmanship still flourishing amid its supposed dark ages.
From one courtroom near the top floor of the courthouse’s nine stories we looked out a window to the north. The judge hinted that most workers in the groves of justice would have preferred a view of the State House more than the orange brick of the RISD Chace Center of 2008. They are fortunate, however, in that the view of the inside of their own workplace is sufficiently splendid to overshadow any disappointment of the outside view.
My patient guides kept me informed and entertained Monday afternoon as I shot a full “roll.” Sheriff LaMountain did double duty three days later after I found that I’d had the camera set to “Effects” rather than to “Auto” – no wonder those shots looked so fuzzy. He superintended my visit to retake them. I have arranged them not in historical order but in subject sets – hallways, public spaces, courtrooms and architectural detail, introduced by several outside shots. This masterpiece of architecture was built between 1928 and 1933 and designed by the firm of Jackson, Robertson & Adam, who also designed RISD’s Helen Adelia Rowe Metcalf Building across College Street. May readers appreciate it through this post rather than a visit under the exigencies of the law. In any event, the building may, for the most part, be freely examined by those whose appetites are whetted here.