PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The tallest building in Rhode Island closed to the public Friday, ending its 85-year run as a bank when Bank of America shut down its branch on the first floor. It’s not clear when the 26-story Art Deco-style skyscraper, known locally as the “Superman building” for its similarity to the Daily Planet headquarters in the old TV show, will open again.
The 1928 building is expected to sit empty and, possibly, much darker, as its owner decides what to do with it. High Rock Development, based in Newton, Mass., has said that when Bank of America’s lease is up at the end of April, there will be changes to the exterior lighting on the building, a distinctive feature of the Providence skyline.
On Friday, ahead of the bank’s 2 p.m. closure, people filtered through the building’s banking hall to get a last look at its vaulted ceilings and the Ionic marble colonnade screen that lines the space.
“It’s sad. It’s a beautiful building,” said Beverly Bowen, a cashier and frequent visitor to the bank branch for her work.
She said she realized Friday might be the last time she ever sees the inside of the building, and that she’ll miss it. She also understands why the bank decided to move out.
“I remember when it was a lot busier than it is now,” she said.
Across the street, Roger Gross, owner of Franklin Rogers Ltd., a men’s clothing store, said he was concerned about what it means for the rest of downtown.
“It’s not good for the city whatsoever. It bodes ill for a city where the largest building is empty,” he said.
High Rock has said it wants to remodel the building into apartments and needs state historic tax credits to do so. That would require the General Assembly to revive the historic tax credit program, which ended in 2008.
Spokesman Bill Fischer said last month that the blue light that shines like a beacon at the top of the building and can be seen in Massachusetts would be turned off. He said lighting that illuminates the building’s facade would be minimal, if it is lit at all. This week, he reiterated that the lighting would change, but said High Rock officials are looking at different lighting schemes.
“Are there ways in which we can keep a minimal amount of lighting going that’s appropriate to the Providence skyline? Those matters are being evaluated,” Fischer said. “We certainly don’t want to be perceived as shutting the lights out when this changeover occurs.”