The Providence Preservation Society is raising awareness on the proposed demolition of 21 Planet Street, a gem of historical and architectural significance. Built in 1785 this house sits right in the heart of the historic Benefit Street area — between Benefit and South Main Streets — where restoration and preservation have created one of the city’s most beautiful neighborhoods. What a shame that this one has fallen into the wrong hands.
It has been neglected for years and is now vacant and boarded up. On May 19, 2017, its owner submitted an application to the Providence Historic District Commission to demolish it, on the grounds that the structure is so badly deteriorated that demolition is the only option. According to Blount Bennett Architects who were hired by the owner to renovate the house in 2016, “the interior is unsafe for occupants or laborers due to years of renovation, rot, and insect infestation.” However, the 2016 inspection done by the City of Providence cites “over-stressing of the structure due to excessive demolition of the interior structures” as the main reason for the unusual sagging of the building.
The property owner wants it to fall apart so he can replace it with what he considers a more lucrative multi-unit structure.
A piece in today’s ProJo by historian Catherine W. Zipf, “History underscores house’s importance,” tells the story of the young merchant and ship owner Welcome Arnold and his role in the American Revolution and Providence history. It is believed he took part in the Gaspee Affair.
During the Revolution, Arnold expanded his operations to include ownership of privateering vessels, a fact that adds considerable context to his participation in the Gaspee affair. He is reputed to have lost more than 30 vessels during the war. Privateering was risky business.
Like most colonial-era merchants, Arnold bought and sold many different items. On June 24, 1775, he advertised the following stock in The Providence Gazette: “Pig and Bar Iron, Iron ware, salt, Snuff by the Dozen or single bottle, Redwood, Wine, Flour by the barrel, also an assortment of English and West-India Goods.” But Arnold specialized in three specific goods: fabric, West Indian rum, and, interestingly, horses.
And while Zipf finds no evidence that he owned slaves, she adds, “. . . since Arnold’s merchant trade involved slave-produced goods, he undoubtedly benefited from its operations.”
The Providence Preservation Society notes that the application for demolition will be heard at a future meeting of the Providence Historic District Commission. The public is encouraged to attend and give testimony. The PPS will be updating their Facebook page when this issue is scheduled for a meeting.
In the meantime, you can write the City Preservation Planner, Jason Martin, with a statement of concern regarding the potential demolition of the Welcome Arnold House, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by sending a letter addressed to:
Providence Historic District Commission
Joseph A. Doorley, Jr. Municipal Building
Department of Planning & Development
444 Westminster Street, Suite 3A
Providence, RI 02903-3215