Thoughts on a newspaper building


The fortress-like heft of the Providence Journal Building near the center of downtown suggests the weight and significance its product once carried across Rhode Island. Now the structure is for sale, a development that serves as a sad metaphor for the seemingly endless cost-cutting hitting newspapers near and far.

The successor to an even more ornate downtown building (and one whose denizens helped give rise to the esteemed diner), 75 Fountain St. has always struck me as handsome and well-placed in its surroundings.

Yet it also suggested some inherent might when the newspaper, in one form or another, was taking it to the powers that be.

The PPS/AJARI Guide to Providence Architecture describes the Journal Building, built in 1934 and added on to in 1948, this way:

This building marks the ascendancy of the Providence Journal into the state's principal newspaper, a posture reinforced by the building's construction in the depths of the Great Depression. The building itself reflects the two principal themes in the work of its architect, Albert Kahn. Based in Detroit, Kahn's business consisted largely of commissions for automobile manufacturers: large, sprawling, utilitarian manufacturing plants for automobile production and large, elaborated detailed period-revival houses (usually Georgian or Tudor) for the magnates who ran the companies. So here we have an industrial building (changing technologies removed the printing presses elsewhere in the mid-1980s) dressed up in Georgian guise . . .

A long time ago, during a stint working for the Providence AP, I regularly ventured into the building at 4 am, picking up the various zoned editions to be rewritten for the morning broadcast report. Year later, during his one sitdown interview with me (for this story), former executive editor Joel Rawson talked with me in the newsroom, citing the paper's staff as an ultimate guard against skewed reporting. More recently, Journal staffers have remarked on the relative lack of activity in the once-feverish newsroom, due to continual cuts in the operation.

So it goes. Whereas once the shutting of the Newport bureau came as a shock, the Journal Building is now for sale, symbolizing the tenuous quality of a once-great industry.

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