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Wilcox Building

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1875, Edwin L. Howland. 42 Weybosset St.

This is the city's best High Victorian Gothic commercial building in what was sometimes derided at the time as the English “streaky bacon” mode of polychromatic contrast, employing the most commonplace combination of materials found in Victorian masonry buildings: red brick and near-white stone. The aggressive enlargement of the light, decorative trim vis-à-vis the dark walls intensifies the “streaky” aspect of the analogy, like bacon more white fat than red meat. The architectural result is ambiguity as to whether the “trim” is meant to predominate over the “wall.” Actually, the use of the natural textures and colors of diverse materials for their intrinsic decorative effect—in this case stone, brick, and stubby column shafts in polished granite—follows John Ruskin's admonitions. Insofar as any style can be attached to this front, it would be the Italianate “Gothic” he recommended for urban buildings because of its pointed arches and cusped and crocketed forms. Here, however, these are stretched, butted, sliced, and, finally, pinched into prickly profiles to create what the mid-nineteenth century hoped might become a “modern Gothic.” If the result seems eccentric today, the idea was conceived in a progressive spirit, with far-reaching implications for subsequent architectural design in emphasizing the use of materials for their texture and color effect. The Wilcox Building has an L plan which wraps around the slightly earlier and adjacent Equitable Building. Its subordinate elevation on Custom House Street is much more subdued. The interior was gutted by fire in early 1975, and the building's restoration helped to focus community concern on downtown preservation.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.
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Data

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Citation

William H. Jordy et al., "Wilcox Building", [Providence, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/RI-01-PR20.

Print Source

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

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