The Turk’s Head Building is an interesting structure built at the intersection of Westminster and Weybosset Streets in downtown Providence, Rhode Island. The v-shaped skyscraper consists of 16 stories and stands 215 feet tall. It was originally designed and built in the early twentieth century (1913). The structure’s front entrance is ornamented with a sculpture of a Turkish man’s head. Currently, the building is used primarily for office and retail space.
The Turk’s Head Building in
downtown Providence is situated on land that was owned by a shopkeeper named
Jacob Whitman in the mid-eighteenth century.
Whitman built his shop on the corner, and over the front entrance he
placed a wooden effigy of an Ottoman warrior.
The bust served as a sign advertising his business – Whitman’s shop was
the one “at the sign of the Turk’s Head.” The warrior is said to be the
inspiration behind the Turkish head placed upon the front of the new
skyscraper. Hence, the new building
featuring the head of a Turkish man (possibly a warrior or a trader) became
known as the “Turk’s Head Building.”
There are several stories about
the Turk’s Head found in the various histories of Providence. The original statue may have been a
figurehead from the front of a Turkish trading vessel, which came into
Whitman’s possession after guiding the ship through many trips between the
shores of America and the Far East. It
scared the neighborhood children, whether it stood in Whitman’s yard or on the
front of his store. He did operate as a
blacksmith so it certainly may have been used to attract visitors to his
shop. In 1815, a hurricane hit the area and
blew the figurehead away. The Merchants’ National Bank of Providence wrote that
the bust was recovered by some members of the family after the hurricane, and
then was shipped to other relatives in Alabama.
There, it was stolen by a small group of inebriated men and sent to the
state’s governor. The bust was eventually returned to the Whitman family. Unfortunately, they stored it in a warehouse
which, along with all its contents, burned in a fire years later. Therefore,
the Turk’s Head that adorns the front of the building today is merely a
representation of the original figure.
The Turk’s Head theme continues
inside the building. There is a
figurehead laid into the lobby floor, and a tile portrait hanging outside one
of the retail units. The floor piece looks like it is a copy of a coin that was
minted in Italy in 1842. The coin was
created in honor of the Ottoman ruler Mehmed II, who governed the Byzantine
Empire centuries earlier. Mehmed II’s
forces defeated Vlad III of Wallachia (also known as Vlad Dracula or Vlad
Tepes). Vlad III was a sadistic ruler who impaled his enemies, including some
of Mehmed II’s men, on stakes throughout his kingdom.
Over the years, a variety of
businesses have occupied the sixteen floors of the Turk’s Head Building,
including the first female attorney in Rhode Island (Ada Lewis Sawyer), law
firms, insurance agencies, investment firms, and a bank. The building has been owned by 76 Westminster
Street, LLC since 2008. The City of
Providence places a value of over $14 million on the real estate.