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Warwick City Hall

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1893–1894, William R. Walker and Son. 3275 Post Rd.

This landmark is one of the most elaborate—and curious—of the town and city halls erected in Rhode Island during the late nineteenth century. Its somewhat peculiar design characteristics are typical of the Walker firm, neither of whose principals received academic training. It is a classic example of a building assembled from the elements of a fashionable style without regard for, or perhaps without knowledge of, the compositional rules for using such elements. The result is original, if idiosyncratic. Though the overall massing has nothing to do with Georgian or Federal precedent, the building is nominally colonial because of its detailing. An Ionic porch shelters an overscaled main entrance featuring enormous side lights and fanlight. Above this, a tower rises, topped by a belfry with Palladian motifs and a domical octagonal-plan roof. The two other surviving Walker town halls in Rhode Island (in Warren and Cumberland) also have central towers; however, Warwick City Hall, with its strict symmetrical composition and columned porch, has a greater air of formal grandeur and dignity. Inside, an entrance hall leads to a double-loaded central corridor on the ground floor and contains paired staircases leading to a two-story council chamber occupying the second and third stories.

At the time City Hall was constructed, Warwick was a prosperous mill town, the sixth most populous municipality in the state. This grand structure stands as an important symbol of Warwick's status at that time. Twenty years later much of the population and industrial base were lost when West Warwick was set off as a separate town. By the 1950s and 1960s City Hall was considered hopelessly outmoded. The council chamber was cut up into a smaller chamber and offices under a dropped ceiling. Plans to construct a modern government center were shelved as the city became preoccupied with providing schools, libraries, sewers, and other services for a burgeoning post–World War II suburban population. By the late 1970s city officials and residents alike had come to appreciate this seat of government as a historical focal point for a community built up largely after 1945. Since then City Hall has undergone a rehabilitation which has included reopening the original council chamber. This monument to Warwick's nineteenth-century propserity and pride stands today as a fitting emblem of the civic identity of Rhode Island's second largest city.

Writing Credits

Author: 
William H. Jordy et al.
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Citation

William H. Jordy et al., "Warwick City Hall", [Warwick, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/RI-01-WA6.

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 320-321.

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