Industrial National Bank Building a/k/a "The Superman Building"
There is one iconic structure marking the Providence skyline, commonly referred to as the “Superman Building.” It was erected for the Industrial National Bank in 1928 as a headquarters for their successful business. But since the 1950s, people have referred to it as the “Superman Building” because it resembles the famous skyscraper Americans were used to seeing in the popular television series. Currently, the building is vacant. Its most recent tenant, Bank of America, moved out of the building in 2013.
Backstory and Context
The Industrial National Bank Building was first constructed in 1928 as the company’s headquarters. At the time of its construction, it was the tallest building in New England. The building consists of 31 stories of masonry construction. It stands 428 feet tall.
The New York-based architectural firm of Walker and Gillette and local architect George Frederick Hall were given the task of designing the Industrial National Bank Building. A firm with experience in building several of New York City’s skyscrapers, the Starret Brothers, was hired for the actual construction. Soon after the Starret Brothers completed the Industrial National Bank Building, they were hired to build another iconic New York City landmark – the Empire State Building.
The skyscraper was constructed during the brief period where “Art Deco” was the fashionable architectural trend, which makes the structure unique in the Rhode Island skyline. Art Deco was an architectural style of applied decoration, with geometric, block forms and curved ornamentation. One of the key elements of the building are the setbacks at the 15th, 22nd, and 26th floors, referred to as stepped massing. These types of setbacks allowed tall buildings to adhere to the strict zoning laws of New York City, passed in 1916, which required skyscrapers to be built in a way that allowed light and air to filter down to the streets below.
In the 1950s, another American icon was born. The “Superman” television series first aired in 1952. Quickly, residents of Providence realized that there was quite a resemblance between the Industrial National Bank Building near Kennedy Plaza, and the building which was home to the newspaper company (the “Daily Planet”) where Lois Lane and Clark Kent were employed. Hence, the Industrial National Bank Building was aptly nicknamed, the “Superman Building.”
The property was purchased by High Rock Development of Massachusetts in 2008 for $33.2 million. The company has a complex plan to renovate the structure from one that is entirely office space to one that is largely residential, with a few floors of office/retail space at the lower levels. Of course, a plan that substantial will require a massive amount of funds, which have not been raised to date. The building sits vacant at the edge of Kennedy Plaza in downtown Providence.
Note: The Industrial National Bank Building is known by two addresses: 55 Kennedy Plaza and 111 Westminster Street, Providence, Rhode Island.
Building History. Save Superman RI. Accessed August 19, 2017. http://savesupermanri.com/facts/.
Abbott, Elizabeth. The Superman Building in Providence, Now Dark, Is in Need of a Savior. The New York Times. October 29, 2013. Accessed August 19, 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/30/realestate/commercial/the-superman-building-in-providence-now-dark....
Historic Styles: Art Deco Style (1925-1940). Wentworth Studio. Accessed August 20, 2017. https://www.wentworthstudio.com/historic-styles/art-deco/.