WOONSOCKET – You might say they don't build 'em like this anymore, but the truth is, they hardly ever built 'em like this, especially in the throes of the Great Depression.
With its cavernous marble lobby and skylit mezzanine, the Rhode Island Hospital Trust building is a downtown landmark that evokes a time, difficult to imagine now, when Woonsocket was a hub of commerce and wealth.
And now, it can all be yours for a mere $625,000.
Built in 1930, the masonry and glass edifice at 162 Main St., opposite City Hall, is for sale for the first time in years. Duarte Carreiro of Fall River, Mass., a co-owner of the building, said he wanted to convert it into condominiums, but those plans collapsed when his business partner fell ill recently.
“He had a stroke and everything stopped,” Carreiro said. “We decided to sell because it's going to be more work than one person can do.”
The building has been entirely vacant since the last major tenant, the state Division of Motor Vehicles, moved out in 2006. Carreiro, a marketing consultant who used to work for the Azorean airline company Sata International, said he and Arthur Pacheco of Seekonk bought the building soon after from Joseph Romano.
Carreiro declined to say how much he and Pacheco paid for the building, but land evidence records at City Hall indicate the price was $400,000, slightly less than what the assessor's office says the taxable value of the property is now.
“I'm trying to market it as the crown jewel of Main Street,” says real estate broker Garrett S. Mancieri of the Keller Williams agency. “For somebody that's looking to make a statement, this definitely does it. It's not the same old boring four walls of office space.”
The building has over 35,000 square feet of space on five stories – nearly a third of it in a palatial ground-floor lobby originally designed to cater to and, no doubt, impress Hospital Trust's walk-in clientele. The tellers' counters are lined with pink marble and a dozen Corinthian columns thick as century-old oak trees stretch from the stone floors to the lofty, arched ceilings. A bank of palladium windows a half-story high line the wall of the mezzanine level overlooking the ground floor.
The building also has two elevators, enormous steel vaults where cash reserves were once stashed and several working fireplaces in the oak-paneled suites of the bank's onetime executives. Upstairs, corridors meander through suites of more traditional office space.
The building will require extensive rehabilitation before it is usable, but Mancieri says that with the proper attention it would make a stunning headquarters for a financial services company, professional condos or, possibly, even a boutique hotel.
Economic Development Director Matthew Wojcik says he included the building on a list of properties the state Economic Development Corporation was seeking on behalf of a New York-based group of investors recently. He said the group, which he declined to identify, was mainly looking for industrial properties worth rehabilitating as a long-term investment, but Wojcik included Hospital Trust and the Stadium Building on the list because they are such unique, historically important sites.
“I'm sometimes more excited by these buildings because they reflect the prosperity of the city at its height,” said Wojick.
From the city's perspective, Wojcik said that his primary concern in marketing the building is that whoever buys it has pockets deep enough to see the project through.
He said it's hard to imagine Main Street without the Rhode Island Hospital Trust site, the tallest building in the city until the now-defunct Marquette Credit Union built an 11-story glass tower in the heart of the Social Flatlands in 1975.
“It's still the tallest building on Main Street, it has the most floor space and it's across the street from City Hall,” says Wojcik. “It's got a great view of the Court Street Bridge, and the Depot Building.”
Rhode Island Hospital Trust Co. was already established in Providence when the Main Street satellite was built, a structure the company modeled as a scaled-down version of its headquarters in the capital, according to Mancieri. Ironically, the biggest bank in Woonsocket was built on the cusp of the Great Depression, a time when scores of banks across the country were collapsing.
You'd never know it from the materials and craftsmanship the company poured into the building – an act that was, surely, a boldly optimistic statement about the country's future, cast in stone, metal and glass.
It's a sentiment Carreiro can appreciate as he attempts to sell the building in the midst of a global real estate meltdown which has often been likened to the Great Depression.
“You have to be optimistic, or things only get worse,” he says.