The Industrial Trust Building, completed in 1928, is one of Providence's most visible landmarks. Not only is it the tallest building in Providence, at a height of 420 feet above the street level, but at night it punctuates the city's skyline with its glowing green lantern, and dramatically illuminated facade. In 1925 the Industrial Trust Company, a rapidly growing regional bank eager to exhibit its success, commissioned the New York firm of Walker and Gillette and local architect George Frederick Hall to build a skyscraper. The Providence based bank opened in its first location in 1887 with a capital of $500,000, and by 1920's the Industrial Trust Company had branches all over the state, with $150 million in assets. Encouraged by a thriving economy, the bank, led by President Florriman M. Howe and the Chairman of the Board, Samuel M. Nicholson wanted a modern building, which would be a symbol of past achievement, as well as a visible investment in the future. Additionally, it would allow the Providence to keep up with other cosmopolitan cities in the nation. At its completion the Industrial Trust building was the tallest in New England.
The Starret Brothers were hired to build the structure, because of their past skyscraper construction experience in New York. The building site was over the former Butler Exchange, located at 55 Exchange Place on Kennedy Plaza. It is a twenty-six story steel frame building enclosed by masonry. The Starret Brothers drilled 3,300 concrete filled steel piles 50 feet into the ground to stabilize the structure. Externally, it is faced with Indiana Limestone with a Deer Island granite base.
The building form derives from the 1916 zoning laws in New York City that required tall buildings to be setback to allow light and air onto the streets below. It consists of six wings off of a central tower. The central tower rises above the mass of the building another two stories, which are purely decorative. This turret has a green glass paneled lantern, topped by a decorative globe. The globe is surrounded by a seven and half ton circle of stone eagles. The second, ninth, fifteenth and twenty-second floors each recede back to achieve the distinctive style, now associated with other building from the same era in New York, such as the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. However, the Industrial Trust Building was completed even before construction began on either of the New York monuments. Industrial Trust predated these buildings both in form and decoration. Carved eagles like the ones from the Industrial Trust Building, similarly adorn the Chrysler building.
Over last seventy five years, the building has survived changing conditions and economic climates. In 1950 the great eagles' heads and wings were removed and replaced by additional lightening rods. An entire bird had fallen from the building in 1930 as the result of a severe thunder storm. In the following years bits of carved feathers had fallen on the building itself causing considerable roof damage. In 1973, during the energy crisis the signature green lantern, which had been turned on every night since 1928, was shut off to conserve fuel.
More recently the Industrial Trust Building influenced the design of the post-modern Providence Place Mall. The two turrets on the mall's structure which resemble scaled down versions of the Industrial Trust's tower.
Jordy, William H. and Monkhouse. Christopher P, Buildings on Paper: Rhode Island Architectural Drawings 1825-1945. Providence: Brown University, The Rhode Island Historical Society and Rhode Island School of Design, 1982.
"Skyscraper will be done in 1928" The Providence Journal. December 19, 1926, p. 5
"Industrial Trust Co., Providence, R.I.," American Architect v. 135, (May 5, 1929): 575
"Bolt Knocks Big Eagle off Top of Building" The Providence Journal. July 24, 1932, p. 1 Loveridge, G.Y.
"Off with their Heads and Wings" The Providence Journal. November 12, 1950, Sec. M., p. 3
"Beacon Eclipsed by Fuel Crisis" The Providence Journal. November 13, 1973, p.1
Woodward, William McKenzie. Providence, A City Wide Survey of Historic Resources. Providence: The Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission, 1980.