Lack of Vision will Sink the Station

More on the Pawtucket - Central Falls train station. First, some background: Built in 1915 by the NYNH&H Railroad, this station has some unique aspects that have had an impact on its current sorry state. As can be seen in the pictures, the main portion of the building straddles the rail-bed. Staircases led down to platforms below the main concourse. Two wings extend out from the north side of the building on either side of the tracks, giving the station a "U" shape footprint. Much of the structure sits in the airspace over the railroad tracks. With transfer of the railroad property progressing from the New Haven to Penn Central and then to Amtrak when Conrail was formed ownership of the station itself has at times been unclear. Although Amtrak never owned the structure, recent court hearings revealed the fact that Amtrak asserts the right to review any demolition plans, citing a deed restriction placed on the property in 1972. Amtrak took complete ownership of the railroad right-of-way in 1976.

Another aspect of the site that has played into its fate is the fact that it spans the Pawtucket - Central Falls city line. Roughly about 1/3 of the building lies on the Central Falls side. When the station opened, it was heralded as a gift to the people of both cities. The station and related track improvements eliminated a dangerous grade crossing at Broad street and the site was chosen to please both city governments. Yet this fact has prevented either city from taking any action since the station closed, further compounding a situation of severe n
eglect. The station has been left to decay since the 1960's, with portions seeing some occasional use as a flea market and a pentecostal church. It also should be stated that it may likely be that had the station resided in one city or the other, it would be gone now.

Now to its current status. A developer now owns the site, and their plans, for a start, include building a CVS store on the north (Central Falls) side of the property. To make way for parking some of the building would have to be demolished, according to the developer. The developer had surveyors spray-paint the city line across the building as a guide for demolition. This came into play a day before the Pawtucket City Council
was to vote on the Mayors plan to take possession of the building through eminent domain. The developer, clearly looking to change the facts on the ground before the vote obtained a demolition permit from the City of Central Falls and sent a demolition company to work on the northwest wing of the station. The City of Pawtucket obtained a court order for a temporary stay, but not until significant damage was done. The vote for eminent domain failed, and now the station sits in limbo, awaiting a possible settlement between the city and the developers, or further court hearings. The most recent news reports negotiation on the issue of creating parking spaces. Naturally, where to park the car? That is the burning issue of our time.

More details on the hearings can be found here:
Also here:

All of this strikes me as another depressing case of a severe lack of vision. We live in a "use and discard" culture, and outside of the preservation community that attitude extends to buildings and even to trains and railroads themselves. The language in some of the newspaper stories reporting on this very issue reflects this, referring to the station as "a relic" and implying that demolition was "inevitable" merely because the building was old and neglected. All of this despite many physical examples to the contrary that exist right in our own community. The 18th century homes on Benefit Street, Saint Maria's Home on Governor Street, The Masonic Temple, all have fallen to decay and been revived. There are many others. Think of what a sad place Providence would be without them, something like Hartford. These buildings shouldn't be allowed to deteriorate to such dismal states, and they certainly shouldn't be helped to decay by the very people charged with their upkeep.

That is exactly what happened at the Gorham site. 33 buildings spread over 30 acres, it was seen by some as "impossible" to redevelop, just another white elephant under city care. Wasn't the Renaissance underwa
y in 1994? Yes, so said the Mayor, and Yet-- The city, or at least a part of it, allowed a salvage company in to remove all of the metal widow frames from every building, exposing the interiors to the elements. Had the buildings been buttoned up and kept secure, a mere ten years later the developers would have been lining up to take over the property so they could put fancy signs on the roof and fancy tenants inside. In an ironic twist, the Stop and Shop built on the Gorham site is now closed, perhaps the city will fight to preserve that. More recently, the Silver Spring Dye Works came down to make way for a Home Depot, complete with fake bricked in round-top windows on its street side veneer. Silver Spring was a sad loss, done in both by the distraction over the fight to save Eagle Square and the lack of any sense that an over-heated Boston real estate market would spark a condo explosion in Providence a mere two years later. At this point, even if the train station is saved, and it should be, a great opportunity will still have been lost: that of a comprehensively redeveloped site featuring a T stop, a community center and retail shops that serve as a focal point for the community, as unique point of pride, and as a greater source of revenue and profit than any single CVS store will provide. It should be acknowledged that many people in the community and in the Pawtucket city government have been working very hard to realize such a plan. That fact makes it more than a shame that what we will get, at best, is yet another chain drug store (and parking lot) shoehorned uncomfortably against a Beaux Arts gem from another age.