Former executive director of Community Works Rhode Island, neighborhood resident and community activist
“It’s tragic what was lost just by three years of neglect.”
Carrie Marsh: I was running the community development corporation across the street. I probably had the best view in the city of what was happening on the roof. The angle of my office to that roof allowed me to see everything happening. I own a house two blocks away from here.
I really feel particularly aware of the challenge of reusing sacred buildings in the inner city that were built to last forever, but they were built to serve populations that have now changed dramatically and it doesn’t matter what denomination you’re talking about.
I loved the way it sat close to the street and sort of invited people in.
That back door was always unlocked. So we realized at that point that the back door was always open. We started noticing people coming and going all the time.
And then we [Marsh and other neighbors] started trying to contact everybody. There’s three years worth of almost guerrilla fighting to save this building [laughs] in these chains of emails that I sent to everybody. First it started off by saying [to Congregation Beth Sholom, owner of the site] you haven’t mowed the lawn in a year. Could you please take care of your site?
And we were getting not only no response, but any response we did get was fairly, I think, belligerent. There was obviously no sense of care or accountability for this building. Nobody from Beth Sholom was responding to us in a positive manner, if at all.
One of the pieces of copper detailing outside that would probably cost $10-20,000 to replace or more fell off one day, and we carried it across the street and kept it in our conference room.
[discusses a prospective buyer for the building]
She said she was a lawyer from Liberia, and she wanted to create a Liberian community center and church here. She hired people to come over here supposedly to clean up the building who started ripping the roof off of it in broad daylight. She had these three guys in an old beat-up pickup truck up on the roof tearing it apart and selling it for scrap.
I called the police, the police showed up, the police and I and these three guys stood by the truck full of scrap roof copper and the police told me, there’s nothing we can do. They didn’t do a thing. They just let the guys drive off with their truck full of copper.
Every morning I’d come to work and I’d see less and less roof, and then we started being able to see daylight through and all that.
I’m disgusted how far this got with just nobody responding to three years’ worth of outcry. It’s tragic what was lost just by three years of neglect. This was a beautiful space.
One thing about this building that’s missing now is that so much of it had the names of the community members who had been in this neighborhood when it was a predominantly Jewish community.
You just had this really lovely quality about it. It’s part of the history of this neighborhood, which has changed so much over its time.
When you have a neighborhood as significant as the South Side, which has a remarkable history and beautiful architecture and incredible diversity, incredible religious buildings, historic religious buildings. That’s a huge part of understanding how this place developed. The spirit of this place was built around communities and their religious practice. You’ve got a huge Baptist church [Calvary Baptist Church] just a few blocks away. You’ve got all these remnants of what brought people here and kept them together in community.
It was sacred. It was what kept them connected to each other and to the places of origin and to a sense of adapting in a new place. Buildings like this are sacred, not only because of the worship that went on in them but the role that they serve for their communities.