Providence Preservation Society issuing RFP for Shakespeare’s Head

THE PROVIDENCE PRESERVATION Society plans to issue a request for proposals in its planned sale of the historic Shakespeare’s Head Building at 21 Meeting St. in the College Hill Historic District of Providence. / COURTESY PROVIDENCE PRESERVATION SOCIETY

PROVIDENCE – The Providence Preservation Society plans to issue a request for proposals in its planned sale of the historic Shakespeare’s Head Building located at 21 Meeting St. in the College Hill Historic District, the nonprofit announced.

The preservation society said in its announcement that it “seeks a new steward to preserve and maintain one of Providence’s colonial treasures.”

The 5,000-square-foot building, which stands on a 0.24-acre lot, was constructed in 1772. It has been owned by the preservation society since 2015.

The three-story clapboard building once housed Providence’s first newspaper in the colonial era, a “precursor to The Providence Journal,” which throughout its history served alternately as one of the city’s first post offices, a print shop, a boarding house and a family home, according to the nonprofit.

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The building is named for a sign featuring famed English playwright William Shakespeare’s head that once hung outside of the building, as part of an advertisement for its print-related enterprises.

“It remains one of Providence’s most significant examples of colonial architecture, with a beloved colonial revival garden designed by James Graham in 1939 and lovingly maintained by generations of volunteers over the years,” according to the announcement by the preservation society.

Shakespeare’s Head was owned and stewarded for nearly 50 years by the Shakespeare’s Head Association, which was founded in 1937 by a small group of civic-minded neighbors who organized to save the building when it was threatened with demolition after sitting vacant for many years, according to the nonprofit.

It was transferred to the care of the Providence Preservation Society and the Junior League of Rhode Island in 1985, when the Shakespeare’s Head Association began to decline, the nonprofit said. Then, in 2015, the preservation society became the sole owner of the building, according to the nonprofit.

“Over the last 20 years, the Providence Preservation Society has invested more than $300,000 in the restoration, repair and maintenance of Shakespeare’s Head, and has stewarded restoration grants totaling nearly $100,000 from generous donors such as the Champlin Foundation,” said Cathy Lund, chairperson of the nonprofit’s board of directors. “We feel proud of the work we have done. It has never been easy, but PPS staff, volunteers and members have devoted considerable time and care to the building and its garden, especially its garden, which is regarded as one of Providence’s hidden treasures.”

Lund said with an “ambitious” strategic plan in place, and with the nonprofit’s newly appointed executive director, Marisa Angell Brown, the preservation society is poised to ramp up its support of local historic districts and places while engaging the public with the city’s architectural heritage and training the next generation of historic tradespeople.

Valerie Talmage, executive director of statewide historic preservation organization Preserve Rhode Island, commended the preservation society for its plan to put the building out for bid.

“I applaud PPS’ decision to consider a new future for Shakespeare’s Head,” Talmage said. “Nonprofits like PPS, which operate on lean budgets, often struggle to find the resources necessary to be great caretakers of historic buildings. PPS is seeking the next owner who will consider themselves a steward of the Shakespeare’s Head Building, adhering to preservation guidelines while investing in repairs and enhancements.”

The preservation society said it donated a preservation easement to Preserve Rhode Island that “puts guardrails in place, giving PPS peace of mind” that Shakespeare’s Head is protected permanently.

“Shakespeare’s Head will be sold with an easement that will permanently protect the building’s exterior and elements of its interior and historic garden,” the nonprofit said.

The preservation society said its RFP will be issued in late April, and it will include specific evaluation criteria in relation to ensuring the building’s long-term preservation and stewardship.

Prior to issuing the RFP, the nonprofit said it will host two information sessions, including one in person on April 8 and another through a Zoom teleconference call on April 11, including in-person and virtual tours of the building.

“These meetings will provide an opportunity for community members to learn more about the building and its garden, to envision new uses and stewards for the future, and to ask questions,” the nonprofit said.

According to the city’s online property tax evaluation database, Providence assessors most recently valued the building and the land it stands on to be worth a total of $817,100.

Marc Larocque is a PBN contributing writer. Contact him at You may also follow him on Twitter @LaRockObama. 

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