This post first appeared on the Endangered Places, Emerging Stories blog of the Providence Preservation Society. The post can be found here, along with other interesting pieces on buildings lost, saved and on the bubble in Providence.
Harris Avenue was one of the very first places I would explore in Providence shortly after I arrived in 1992. I can clearly recall the first trip out with the 4x5 camera to that part of town. A spring afternoon, Sunday, the sun clear and warm. Red brick, dusty streets and not a soul around. The area felt ignored and forgotten, as if time had slowed to a crawl. Activity ceased or barely persisting in the evidence of one or two boxcar loads on a siding and a scattering of trucks at a few loading docks. Perfect for me and my slow camera. Plenty of time and none. For if there had been little change over the previous 25 years on Harris Ave. the next 25 would be otherwise.
There were several structures of interest that together made up the fabric of the district, held together by railroad tracks and the river channel. An ivy covered signal tower from the New Haven railroad era, a single story track side warehouse with a curving wooden dock, the hulking Providence Cold Storage warehouse, and the iconic Silver Top diner.
Anchoring the street was the concrete art deco of the Providence Fruit and Produce Warehouse. Long (almost 900 feet) and low it was built in 1929 when rail was king to hold produce unloaded from boxcars for distribution through the city. In 1992 there was some activity but it was hardly a bustling place. One by one these places were pulled from the fabric, torn down or in the case of the Silver Top, moved. The space itself was intruded upon by new highway off ramps.
When the warehouse was finally pulled down in 2008 I wrote this: ...[the warehouse] has great value because it connects us to our past, it is real in a way that buildings like the Providence Place Mall will never be. This is our heritage, built for an honest hard working purpose, not a sham echo of something it is not. This is not a decorated box, which is almost surely what we will get in the place of the warehouse." The rest of this rather angry blog post can be found here.
So far all we get in place of what might have been is an empty lot. Perhaps it could have become the year round farmers market that Providence so desperately needs. Perhaps not. Although tons of produce still moves by rail it is not the fruit and veg that the new farm to table trade is built on. Perhaps it could have been arts space. We'll never know. Looking at these pictures reminds me that the only time we have is now, and if we wish to maintain a connection to the past we have to work at it, or all that will remain is a photograph. That said, you can view more photographs here.