The Vault, the Bannister House, the home of a non-existent secret society. However you identify the abandoned red brick foundation at 93 Benevolent Street, it will soon change. Quite an eyesore among surrounding wood-shingled structures, this overgrown and under-utilized house will undergo rapid renovations courtesy of Brown University’s Brown-to-Brown program. Otherwise known as B2B, this productive concept flips vacant properties under Brown ownership and prepares them for purchase by faculty and staff. Why? To not only improve the surrounding College Hill neighborhood, but also turn houses into taxable real estate for the city of Providence.
Chockfull of historical value, Benevlolent Street’s soon-to-be chic abode was once home to African American tonalist painter, Edward Mitchel Bannister. A founding member of the Providence Art Club and first-place bronze medalist at the Philadelphia Centennial, Bannister is popular for his land and seascapes now visible at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Built in 1854 by engineer Charles E. Paine, this endangered property has not only served its inhabitants, but also surrounding students. The structure played a large role in the development of Facades, a student-generated iPhone app that takes users on guided tours of Brown University buildings to discover their architectural history. Recent graduate Evan Sweren even devoted his final semester to an independent study project that examined the house and Bannister’s work. Sweren not only delved into the home’s history, but also advocated for its renovation and preservation of the city’s most interesting chronicles.
Vacant and in disrepair for over two decades, Brown acquired the home in 1989 but the building hasn’t been remodeled since owner Louise Herreshoff and her husband, Euchlin Reeves transformed the structure into a museum for their antiques collection in the 1930s. A timely upgrade, these now outdated changes wiped away any tinge of Bannister’s existence. The humdrum, two-and-a-half wooden cottage mounted with slatted timber was replaced with its characteristic amber brick facade.
The 2,400 square foot home, which will be returned to its original wood exterior, is one of twelve that has been successfully restored through the B2B program and is currently valued by the Rhode Island Tax Assessor’s database at $263,600 – land included. Significant interior renovations, including new mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems will serve as the bones for improved bathrooms, flooring, walls, and kitchen amenities.