“Lost Prov” on the march

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Bird’s-eye view of Providence in 1894. Note that at right Union Depot survives while its replacement, Union Station, is built. (Digital copy of archival photo courtesy of John Resseger)

To update readers on my upcoming book Lost Providence, I finished writing it at the beginning of November, a month after I delivered its 99 illustrations to the publisher, which is The History Press, headquartered in Charleston, S.C. My editor there is Banks Smither, who took over from Edward Mack, who had conceived the project, superintended its initiation and my early writing. Banks helped me get through the complexities of the image acquisition and permission phase, and is now roughing out a schedule for publication, which could happen as early as May. His associate, Rick Delaney, performed a light initial copyedit, implementing the mandates of the Chicago Manual of Style and deftly suggesting improvements in the flow of my prose. Under his able guidance I was able to untangle some of my more circuitous sentences. Plus I was able to make some corrections and add passages to address people or events that I’d neglected to include in the first draft. I sent that back to him in early December. He and Banks will soon be sending actual page proofs, with text and illustrations as they will appear in the final book, along with the index and a forward by Andrés Duany. I will do a final read when I get the proofs but will only be able to make such minor changes as will not cause any disruption of the page layout.

Banks has had me select possible images for the front cover, plus a slate of images from the book that will be made into booklets of postcards. Soon we will be starting to market the book. I will be doing readings, book signings and lectures as part of a publicity campaign to be directed from Charleston.

Lost Providence is a history of architectural change in one city, taking in almost four centuries but focusing on the last two, and especially the projects that have shaped Providence (or not) since World War II. It originated with a column I wrote in 2014 called “Providence’s 10 best lost buildings,” but goes beyond that to examine what I have called “lost projects.” The book ends happily with an account of projects that have rejuvenated the capital of the nation’s smallest but most obstreperous state.

One friend and expert in the subject who has already read the book is Mark Motte, who with Fran Leazes wrote the the most comprehensive and erudite history of Providence’s revival over the past several decades. Providence: The Renaissance City is a remarkable book. Mark’s assessment of my own book is also remarkable, and he has permitted me to quote some of it below:

This is a marvelous book. It complements previous work (including your own), yet manages to be original and to cover much new ground.

I am delighted by the carefully delimited scope (to which you adhere consistently throughout, never straying far from your design-centered theme); the richness of your research and originality of the case studies and anecdotes that buttress your narrative; the rigor of and consistency in your use of solid evidence; the corrections you politely make to distorted past renderings of elements of the renaissance story; and, in particular, how you manage to rein yourself in at just the right moments, halting just ahead of the precipice of unsupported assertion and grand-standing. …

The book somehow manages to teach without condescending; to persuade without preaching; and to amuse without ever appearing frivolous. It will be of interest to both the scholar-urbanist and the lay reader (by which I mean a person with absolutely no background in architecture, urban design or the history of the American city). Your work invites all comers by weaving a tale of honest intrigue: of visionary design steps taken and of opportunities sadly (and perhaps forever) missed.

Most importantly to me, your book will stir anew the traditionalist versus modernist debate in architecture and urban design. You muster the arguments made by all the right players in the traditionalist canon, and boy do you blast their cannons without mercy?!  (Sorry for punning, but it seemed suddenly called for.)

Of course I was immensely gratified by Mark’s kind words. This project is naturally very exciting to me. It will be my first book. Having to write 40,000 words due several months in the future is a scary proposition for someone accustomed to writing 800 words due by tomorrow. Forty thousand words is about 50 of my old Providence Journal columns in a third of the time. I am glad the end is in sight, and I hope readers of this blog will enjoy reading the book as much as I enjoyed writing it.

About David Brussat

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. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am 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 employ my writing and editing to improve your work, 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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8 Responses to “Lost Prov” on the march

  1. Professor Arthur Mark, Ed.D says:

    We’re excited to have the book in our hands this spring. Some of us will mourn our loss but others will be moved to appreciate the work of preservation societies and join in their work to acknowledge and keep what is historic and beautiful in architecture along with engaging city planners who pledge to enhance lovely architecture as they plan roads and parks.


    • Right on, Arthur! But the nice thing about Providence is that the best buildings have actually been saved here, unlike so many other places. The trick is to get preservation organizations (including PPS) to agree that preserving and enhancing the settings of the buildings the save is as important as saving the buildings themselves. Many of them are not on board with that yet.


  2. William S. Kling says:

    Hi David and Happy All Holidays! Looking forward to the book-pre-orders being accepted? The comments from Mark reflect only what your readers would expect-accessible erudition. The postcards sound like a great idea. I’ll have to buy multiple sets for family who’ve moved away, and one sister’s friend who collects postcards. Keep writing!


  3. Eric Daum says:

    Congratulations, David. I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to its publication and your future speaking dates!


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