The Providence Fruit and Warehouse Company Building (PFWC) at 4-64 Kinsley Avenue is a key contributing element of the Provisions Warehouse Historic District. Located on the north side of the tracks of the New York, New Haven, & Hartford Railroad (NY,NH&H), the district currently consists of 10 buildings with important historical associations to the development of Providence' s food storage, processing, and distribution industries between the years 1894 and 1947.
The PFWC Building was constructed in 1929 in response to a need for local fruit and produce merchants to have a central and convenient location to market their goods. Since the 1773, when the Market House was built at Market Square in downtown Providence, local produce dealers operated from wagons and carts along Dyer and South Water Streets by the former Weybosset Street Bridge over the Moshassuck River. By the late nineteenth century, sections of the streets, surrounding open lots near the river, were leased to market gardeners for early morning trade (Cady, p. 238). In the mid-191Os, frustration with traffic congestion in the downtown area and a restriction requiring that dealers vacate Market Square by 10:30 a.m. each morning prompted a group of local produce men to seek a more suitable location for an outdoor market (Cady, p. 239). The group formed the Providence Market Gardeners' Association and purchased a four-acre tract from the Dyer family in the Woonasquatucket valley, between Promenade Street and Davis Park. The dealers operated in open air stalls at what became known as the Governor Dyer Cooperative Market. An large market building (extant) was planned in 1929, but construction was delayed until the late 1930s.
While the Governor Dyer Cooperative Market attracted many of the local produce dealers, a number remained at Market Square until the late 1920s. By that time, traffic congestion had increased to the point where local officials wished to move the dealers out of the downtown area. Early in 1927, the City Council ordered that all produce dealers move out of the area by July 1. In response, a group of Market Square dealers, headed by Frank A. Crossley, banded together to form Providence Terminal Market, Inc. (PTM, Inc.), for the purpose of securing land and constructing a market building at a convenient location on the fringes of the downtown area. Former Providence Mayor Joseph H. Gainer, served as the attorney and spokesman for the corporation, and headed the search for an appropriate location (Providence Journal,9/27/1927:5). In October 1927, the stockholders of the corporation voted unanimously to enter into an agreement with the Providence Produce Warehouse Company, a subsidiary of the NY,NH&H Railroad, to erect a building on the railroad's former Yard 17. The site, which fronted on the tracks , was located south of the Merchants Cold Storage Warehouse on Harris Avenue in Providence's provisions warehouse section. The initial plans for the property included the construction of a $740,000 building, which would be paid for over a period of 25 years from rent charged to the produce dealer occupants of the building 's units (Providence Journal, 10/5/1927:24).
In early January 1928, PTM, Inc. announced that it expected to be in the new building by the end of the year. They also asked for and were granted an extension by the City Council to allow dealers to continue operating in the Market Square area until the new market building was completed (Providence Journal, 1/8/1928:6). Construction of building began in late July and was scheduled for completion by January 1, 1929, when the City Council's agreement to allow dealers to operate in Market Square expired (Providence Journal,7/14/1928:6). Difficulties encountered with constructing underground tunnels to the Merchants Cold Storage
Warehouse, however, delayed the opening of the building until April 1929 (Providence Journal,4/16/1929:2).
Financed by the Providence Produce Warehouse Company, the building was hailed by the national, state, local, and railroad officials who attended its opening celebration as the "finest and most efficient distributing unit for perishable foods in the United States" (Providence Journal, 4/16/1929: 1). The $1 million, Art Moderne-style facility was designed by Emory W. Ballou of the prominent local engineering firm of Jenks and Ballou. Constructed with a steel frame and poured concrete skeleton and finished with red brick, the two-story building measured 965-ft.-long by 60-ft.-wide. Its basement level extended to 90 ft. in width, extending out below the loading docks attached to the north and south elevations of the building. The interior was divided into narrow 15 ft.-wide units, but renters could customize their spaces by leasing adjoining units. The amount of rent depended on the number of units occupied and whether or not an elevator was installed and cooling apparatus was needed. If additional cold storage space was needed, the dealers could rent it at the neighboring Merchants Cold Storage Warehouse, which was easily accessible via the tunnel connecting the two buildings. Imported produce could be brought up to the building by rail on four spurs off the NY, NH&H Railroad. After the goods were processed and packed, they could be loaded on to trucks off the Harris Avenue platform for local distribution (Providence Magazine, May 1929:190; Providence Journal, 4/16/1929:2).
The building has been in continual use by local produce dealers since the time of its construction. Among the longest-running businesses to operate there were the Tourtellot company, which was an original tenant in the building in 1929 and remained there until the early 1990s, and William J. Canaan, Inc., which has operated there for some 60 years . From the time of its establishment until the late 1980s, the PFWC Building was a thriving hub for local food distribution, handling all manners of locally grown and imported vegetables and fruits. During the last decade, however, large supermarket chains began buying much of their produce direct from growers, thereby cutting out a significant portion of the wholesaler's business.
The physical appearance of the building reflects the downturn in the fortunes of the produce dealers. In the 1980s, several bays and a railway tower at the east end of the building was removed to make way for construction of a ramp off Interstate 95. Recent arson fires have caused damage to some of the units and a number of others lie vacant. There are currently six produce businesses operating out of the building, including Red Hen, an egg packing company; Ace Packing, a fruit and vegetable distributor; William J. Canaan-East, which sells onions and potatoes; William, Canaan-West, which sells fruits and vegetables; Michael Brothers, a general produce distributor; Wesco Bananas; and A.T. Siravo & Co., a vegetable distributor.
Scope and Contents: The records consist of one final Rhode Island Historic Resources Archive (RIHRA) documentation (Prov-0004) prepared for the Providence Fruit and Produce Warehouse Company Building. As part of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation improved access from Interstate Route 95 project, the Providence Fruit and Produce Warehouse Company Building was modified to allow access for construction equipment and construction activities. As this structure has been dtermined eligible for listing in the National register of Historic Places, appropriate historical documentation was prepared prior to modification.