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Editorial & Opinion

Save the Superman building!



Paris is endeavoring to repair and restore Notre Dame Cathedral – at whatever cost. For “sentimental” or spiritual reasons. We here in Providence have neglected our only Skyscraper, the most poetic and “philosophical” structure in our downtown and seem to have no interest in saving it. The prospect of tearing down our iconic silhouette shocks, appalls, and enrages me! It saddens me that we have tossed this masterpiece of 20th century design into the trash, the dustbin, and the amnesia and oblivion of our history.

Inside and outside, the former Industrial Trust Building was a story in stone. The bas reliefs on all its walls told the tale of each and every chapter of our collective conscience. Roger Williams greets the indigenous people, a pair in canoes willing – at first – to share and collaborate, each culture enriching the partner. Craftspeople from beyond the borders of our shoreline come to construct the community, weaving, designing, gathering, learning new languages, dining on the produce of our farmland. Providence was more than rural – it was Eden! You can see the saga carved as you stroll around the corners of the “Superman” building, like a book pointing skyward for inspiration.

No wonder myth has it that the boy artists who glimpsed its charm sketched the image of its graceful profile and turned it into the very ideal of the Clark Kent reporter who can save the planet from all the ills of the Depression, the Duration, and the fascist foes in far-away Europe. When submarines circled the East Coast hoping to invade, to divide and conquer us, with our pledge and promise of freedom all over the world, along came the shy but secretly powerful rescuer from another planet, Superman. These high school teen-age friends saw something in the Industrial Trust tower that gave them Hope, the motto of our flag and logo, and they gave it to their generation of readers of the funnies and the early graphic “novels” in our Sunday newspapers.

One of the sorrier aspects of the postwar world has been the emphasis on throwing away yesterday and celebrating the new. Remember when “Old Dutch” cleanser turned into “New Dutch Cleanser” because anything old had become obsolete. Recall that major Commandment “Honor thy Mother and thy Father” which meant, show respect for the past and for the values of yesteryear?

I visited the embassy in Malta when former Mayor Paolino was serving as Ambassador, and was welcomed most hospitably. I am, however, deeply disappointed that he, of all people, would participate in the plan to take down my all-time favorite building, the elegant, eloquent, and most excellent proud architectural achievement of the 20th century. Is it too late to reverse this dreadful decision to destroy it? I would plead before the deadline that the Providence Preservation Society, the Academic world – with Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University, as well as University of Rhode Island collaborating on using downtown as a shared Academia drawing its disciples from all over and around the global world might come together and find a nobler solution to the problem of neglect, abandonment, and a kind of ill will toward our broad ancestral mission to welcome all kinds of diverse people into the American Dream at its best.

Can we please ask a favor?

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Its best is the Industrial Trust, the Superman building on Westminster street, across from our City Hall, a neighbor of our Arcade and Turk’s Head, and looming up to the biblical Firmament like a lighthouse for the future as well as a torch from the past, when dirigibles thought a lighthouse was like the lamp in the hands of our Statue of Liberty.

Literary arts Professor Mike Fink is the longest-serving faculty member at the Rhode Island School of Design and has influenced generations of students. Fink started teaching at RISD in 1957, after receiving a bachelor's degree from Yale University and master degrees from Brown and Harvard.


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