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Bank of North America (Former)

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1856, Thomas A. Tefft. 48 Weybosset St.

This, the Wilcox and Equitable buildings, and the Federal Building (see the next three entries) represent a particularly handsome and varied sequence of mid-to-late Victorian commercial buildings in conjunction with an important public institution for the city's commerce. They also demonstrate the downtown scale of the medium-sized American city in the mid-nineteenth century. The Bank of North America is the only remaining commercial block by Tefft (save for a much-altered bank in Taunton, Massachusetts), although the substantial archive of his drawings owned by Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design contains many similar designs for commercial buildings. Tefft was among the early proponents in America of the full-fledged Italian palace front. Growing European enthusiasm for the revival of the Italian Renaissance palace format in its various national manifestations began as early as the 1820s in Germany and the late 1820s in England, where it remained fashionable throughout the 1840s, when Tefft came to know of it; the A. T. Stewart Department Store in New York (1846) provided the first conspicuous American example of what became the ubiquitous nineteenth-century “commercial palace.” From Tefft's elevation drawing for this bank we know that its ground story was originally heavily rusticated and penetrated by three large, arched openings for a central window flanked by entrances into the bank and up to offices above. This heavy treatment would seem to have been more appropriate to the ponderousness typical of much Victorian palatial detailing than to the delicacy of Tefft's treatment, still remaining in the upper stories. Screened by fire escapes, its brownstone face painted to cover grime, the elevation nevertheless reveals Tefft's refined and restrained attention to detail and his fine proportioning of wall openings with a full array of Renaissance window capping to provide mild variety across the surface, all incisively framed by the quoining and cornice. The identification of the long defunct bank appears beneath the cornice with the precision of an elegantly engraved Victorian letterhead.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


What's Nearby


William H. Jordy et al., "Bank of North America (Former)", [Providence, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 47-48.

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