Below is an editorial from the Providence Journal, published in 1927, about the city’s appearance in 1827, two years before the Journal’s founding in 1829. The editorial was found and given to your trusty editor by Bill Whelan, author of The Highlands, on the summer colony at Bristol Neck. Bill handed a copy of the ancient editorial to me before my Lost Providence lecture to the Rochambeau Library last week. This evening I will be found at WaterFire, discussing the city and selling my book from a tent. The editorial reads:
Providence in 1827
“It gives us pleasure to notice,” said the editor of the Manufacturers and Farmers Journal just a hundred years ago, “the various indications of business and prosperity in our town in the shape of new buildings, streets extending themselves over what was a little while since marshland, hills dug down to make room for buildings, &c.”
Canal street was “fast assuming the air of a business street,” with two large and elegant brick stores already completed; the nearby bridge was still a novelty and a little farther westward the magnificent Arcade had just reached the third story, deeply impressing the editor with the handsome white granite of its two facades.
Today there is a good deal of building in progress in the centre of the city. Yet how different are the construction methods employed, how much more ambitious the proportions of the tall masses of steel, brick and stone!
One cannot help wondering by what new and ingenious devices the towers of trade and commerce will be erected in the 2027 and to what vast dimensions they will go.
And to what unpredictable changes will American industry, government and society have adjusted themselves in that far-distant year?
Not so far distant anymore! And it may be that the question might be answered a decade from today with a smile at the return of aesthetic sense to building. For it was not long after 1927 that the business and profession of architecture took a turn toward the absurd, which became conventional practice by 1950.
In 2017, although the absurd remains far the dominant mode of design in architecture, and the brand of the 1 percent, this could change. It took only a few years for architecture to go wrong, so it is possible that by 2027 the field could flip-flop again and be well on its way to rediscovering its sanity.
Social change has turned on a dime before. For example, it took only about a decade after modern architecture became de rigueur in America for the reaction against it, known as historic preservation, to transform from a niche interest focused on saving places where President Washington slept into a mass movement based on widespread anxiety generated by modern architecture.
Let’s do it again.