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City of Providence Water Supply Board, Philip J. Holton Water Purification Plant, Scituate Reservoir

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c. 1930. North Rd.

The Moderne monumentality of this water filtration plant recalls such public works of the time as those built in conjunction with dams by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Tennessee Valley Authority, as well as many New Deal projects erected under the Public Works Administration. Slightly varying arrangements of cubes in sheer planes of yellow limestone, broken only by the skimpiest projections of vestigial cornices, make slightly asymmetrical flanking wings behind an entrance centerpiece. This consists of an unadorned projecting gray marble frame, infilled with plate glass and thin metal mullions, which rises nearly the full height and full length of the center block. An austere frame for the transparent wall to the public reception lobby, it also appears as the most elemental of classical porticos, meant to recall the traditional neoclassical public building even as it nudges the past toward streamlined modernity. Like the fountains and the manicured, parklike landscaping of its surroundings, this temple to progress was intended to attract the public. Visitors were invited into the tall, luminous reception hall, adorned with such typical features of the period as a metal-railed stair making a slashing diagonal in the space, up to a balcony (both stodgier and less open than in the most dramatic Moderne interiors) and set off against a curved wall, which displays a map and a cross section of the plant. By now enthusiasm for this intended destination of Sunday drives seems to have waned. The reception desk is empty. The slab-capped entrance door through the metal and glass wall is locked. A sign points the infrequent (even unwanted) sightseer to a side entrance behind the sans serif aluminum identification of the facility on one of the wall planes. The arcadian ambience is magnified by appearing so pristine, so benign in its promise of uncomplicated technological benefit, and so deserted.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


What's Nearby


William H. Jordy et al., "City of Providence Water Supply Board, Philip J. Holton Water Purification Plant, Scituate Reservoir", [Scituate, 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, 272-272.

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