The Cranston Street Armory   Leave a comment

View of the “proposed new state armory” from Providence Board of Trade (1898).

A peek inside.
310 Cranston St, Providence
by Michael Schemaille
(photos by the author unless noted otherwise)

Located on Providence’s West Side, the Cranston Street Armory is an imposing, fortress-like building set at the back end of the Dexter Training Grounds. No longer used for military purposes, the armory (sometimes referred to as the Rhode Island State Armory) serves today as the State Fire Marshal’s Office, as well as providing a secondary home and storage facility for the Board of Elections.

It’s easy enough to walk around the outside of the building and see the care that went into its construction, the details that make it special. They certainly don’t make them like they used to. But, while anyone can walk around the outside of the building, not everyone gets to see the interior. I’ve had the opportunity to explore inside a bit, and would like to shed some light on some very cool hidden details in this crumbling architectural masterpiece.

The largest part of the armory is the parade floor, covering nearly 9,000 square feet and surrounded by an enormous steel skeleton. I’m told that during its heyday, the floor was so highly polished that you could see your reflection in it. Sadly, those days are over and today the floor is drab and dusty, patched here and there with plywood. Over the years, the floor has served a number of interesting purposes, but today chain-link fences line the sides of the floor, containing much of the Rhode Island Board of Elections’ inventory of voting booths, ballot boxes, and polling place signs. Down one side of the room lies a row of suitcases and cinderblocks, used as training aids for sniffer dogs. In 2007, the parade floor was used as a sound stage for Disney’s Underdog.

Perhaps the most interesting detail on the parade floor is the pair of “wheelhouses” at one end of the room. These wooden structures were built to resemble the bridges of warships, with observation ports and duty stations. Their purpose here was to train ships’ artillerymen in “dialing in” their shots. Receiving coordinates from their two “spotter ships,” the artillerymen would then adjust their windage and elevation settings to hit an imaginary target. I’m told that for a long time, a ship’s gun sat in the middle of the floor, and that there’s an enormous concrete vault in the basement that was built to accommodate the gun’s weight.

My tour guide, one of the Marshals, was kind enough to take me all the way up to the roof. The views of Providence were extraordinary, and it gave me a chance to see some other architectural details that I would have never known about otherwise. Each of the towers has several parapets, and from the roof, each one is accessible by a small door. These were sniper nests, meant for crowd control in the event of a rebellion or riot. This makes some sense, considering that this armory was built on the site of one that stood during the time of the now nearly-forgotten Dorr Rebellion.

Sadly, there wasn’t much else of interest inside the towers. Years of neglect have taken their toll, and there’s significant evidence that a large number of pigeons once took roost above the first floor. Light fixtures hang askew from the ceilings, everything is covered in dust, and the paint, no doubt leaded, is peeling from every wall. While there are tentative plans to open the building up to more state offices, it’s going to take a lot of time and taxpayer money to get it to that stage.

Because each tower only has one staircase, the building doesn’t have adequate fire escapes. This means that for the foreseeable future, only the first floor is inhabitable. Putting in fire escapes would require building escape stairs into the parade floor, or, more reasonably, along the outside of the building. Given the cost of rehab needed on the building’s exterior, this is also highly unlikely in the near future. The city continues to put money into repairs and upkeep, but it seems to only be a palliative measure. This historic building deserves more, and I’m glad I got the chance to see it before it crumbles further.

"1904 Designed and Built by the Boston Bridge Works" – plaque on one of the major support beams on the parade floor.

“1904 Designed and Built by the Boston Bridge Works” – plaque on one of the major support beams on the parade floor.

A view of the parade floor. The white frame in the middle of the floor is for fireman training. The large blue mass in the back corner are stacks of voting booths.

A view of the parade floor. The white frame in the middle of the floor is for fireman training. The large blue mass in the back corner are stacks of voting booths.

One of the "ship's bridges," designed for artillery training. Note the azimuth "scoreboard" at top left.

One of the “ship’s bridges,” designed for artillery training. Note the azimuth “scoreboard” at top left.

A row of suitcases for sniffer dog training. The ring of cinderblocks in the background holds cans of scented materials for further training.

A row of suitcases for sniffer dog training. The ring of cinderblocks in the background holds cans of scented materials for further training.

Detail of West door.

Detail of West door.

A stairpost. The anchor motif can be seen all around the first floor, but nowhere above. Likely, the artistic details were meant to be seen by visitors who wouldn't progress beyond the first floor.

A stairpost. The anchor motif can be seen all around the first floor, but nowhere above. Likely, the artistic details were meant to be seen by visitors who wouldn’t progress beyond the first floor.

A dizzying view of the parade floor from the catwalks above.

A dizzying view of the parade floor from the catwalks above.

One of the dusty, crumbling rooms in the West tower.

One of the dusty, crumbling rooms in the West tower.

Corner detail, taken from the catwalk.

Corner detail, taken from the catwalk.

A view of the roof. Note the sniper's door in the corner turret.

A view of the roof. Note the sniper’s door in the corner turret.

Another roof view.

Another roof view.

Commemorative plaque at the East entrance. Photo by Christopher Martin.

Commemorative plaque at the East entrance. Photo by Christopher Martin.

Information

Hours: The armory is not generally open to the public. You need to keep your eye out for the rare public event, or else know a guy, to get a peek inside.

Finding it: From Route 95 take exit 21. If coming from the north, continue straight from the top of the exit ramp and turn right on Westminster Street. If coming from the south, turn left at the top of the ramp onto Broadway, take an immediate left onto John J. Partington Way, then turn right on Westminster. Once on Westminster, bear left at the Y intersection onto Cranston Street. Go about one half mile, the Cranston Street Armory is on the right.

Related:
The Cranston Street Armory on Wikipedia.
The Cranston Street Armory on ArtInRuins.com.

* * * * *

Michael Schemaille is a former English teacher and a current freelance writer and editor. A native New Yorker, he has lived in Rhode Island since 2006 and is quite fond of his adopted state. He is an avid geocacher, a hobby that takes him to many strange and unusual locations.

* * * * *

Return to Quahog.org |

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: