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Equitable Building

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1872, Walker and Gould and Builders Iron Foundry. 36 Weybosset St.
  • (Photograph by Andrew Hope)

Few buildings with full facades in cast iron remain in Providence; this is by far the best of those that do and the best preserved. The “Venetian” facade was cast locally by the city's leading architectural foundry. The polychrome exterior was restored to what appears to have been something like its original paint scheme in the early 1980s. So this row of three buildings displays three stylistic variations popular for mid-nineteenth-century commercial blocks which also represent contrasting yet typical nineteenth-century approaches to the renovation of history to make modem buildings. The first identified the specific type from the past that most precisely met the new functional needs and made it a standard. The second adopted a preferred style from the past and manipulated it into a “modern” version of itself. The third chose a style from the past with characteristics, like the expansive windows and minimal walls of certain late Gothic and Renaissance Venetian palaces, which lent themselves to bold translation into new nineteenth- century materials and technology.

Equitable Insurance seems to have taken a progressive attitude toward its buildings at the time. It was in the vanguard in erecting a skyscraper for its New York company headquarters in the 1870s. For this local office it chose to build in a new material, which also offered easy assembly from bolting together prefabricated cast panels. The Equitable also preserves the Victorian custom of locating a shop a half flight down and the principal business floor a half flight up, thereby giving both levels visibility from the sidewalk and doubling the landlord's income from “street level” rentals.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


What's Nearby


William H. Jordy et al., "Equitable Building", [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, 48-49.

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