New England Preservation:  The Superman Building


By Carla Charter
PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND – Sitting on Westminster Street in Providence, Rhode Island is a skyscraper that might make the passerby do a double take.  The building might even give a person a vague feeling that they have seen it before possibly in some old television show.

The Industrial National Bank Building, although never actually appearing in the Superman television show of the 1950’s, still holds a startling resemblance to the Daily Planet. It is why the building in Providence, the tallest skyscraper in the state, is nicknamed the Superman building.

The actual Daily Planet building, according to Superman co-creator Joe Shuster was based on buildings in his home city of Toronto.  The Providence building is however featured in the adult animated show Family Guy.

The Providence skyscraper was at one time the tallest in New England and is still the tallest building in Rhode Island standing at 428 feet with 26 floors. It is also the reason why there is now an effort to save the building and why it was placed on Providence Preservation Society’s 2018 Most Endangered Properties List.

The history of the building is just as fascinating as its uncanny resemblance to the Daily Planet. The building was commissioned in 1925 by the Industrial Trust Company and opened to tenants on October 1, 1928.

It was designed in the Art Deco style which was popular at that time. The building’s design which began in New York was originally created to be a solution for Manhattans strict 1916 zoning policies, regarding adequate light and air.  Providence did not have these regulations yet New York architects Walker and Gillette along with local architect George Fredrick Hall still decided to use this style.

The skyscraper was renamed the Fleet Tower in 1982 when Industrial Trust changed its name to Fleet Financial Group, then in 1995 Fleet merged with Shawmut National Bank and moved to Boston. In 2012 Bank of America, the sole tenant of the building decided not to renew its lease.

The building is currently vacant.

As for the future of the building, it is still undecided.  “I would like to see the building used for that respects the architecture and contributes to downtown life in a positive way,” according to Brent Runyon of the Providence Preservation Society.

Cliff Wood Executive Director of The Providence Foundation agrees. “The symbolism and historic importance of the building are really important. Also the functionality is really important as a building its size and location downtown. Its not just what goes into that building Its that’s buildings effect on the whole downtown. The economy of Providence is over half of the GDP for the whole state. Having that building functioning is not just important for the city it is important for the state.”