John O. Pastore Federal Building, Providence, RI

John O. Pastore Federal Building, Providence, Rhode Island

Building History

Providence was established in 1636 by Roger Williams and his followers as a haven for persecuted religious dissenters. With its position on the Narragansett Bay, the city's development revolved around maritime industries for centuries. During the American Revolution, Providence citizens played a key role in the Continental Congress and founding a Continental Navy. Essential government systems, including the postal service, customs service, and courts, quickly fell under control of the newly formed federal government. The Postal Act of 1792 formally established the United States Postal Service.

Post offices in cities such as Providence initially occupied rented quarters in commercial buildings. As the United States became more populous and prosperous, designs for post office buildings were developed. Providence's first federal building and custom house, built in the Italianate style, was constructed 1855-1857. As the city grew, the need for more space became apparent. In 1908, a new courthouse, post office, and custom house building in the Beaux Arts style was erected at the northeast end of Exchange Place Mall (now Kennedy Plaza). Both of these buildings remain on their original sites and are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

By the late 1920s, the need for additional space again became urgent. The city selected a site adjacent to the 1908 Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse. A local architectural firm, Jackson, Robertson & Adams, received the commission to design an annex to the Beaux Arts building. This firm also had designed the Providence County Courthouse, an addition to City Hall, the State Office Building, and the Rhode Island State Airport Terminal at Hillsgrove. Cornerstone laying ceremonies took place in September 1939. The post office annex, as it was then called, was completed by May 1940 at a cost of $896,000.

The U.S. General Services Administration acquired the building in 1961. Renamed in 1977 for former Governor and U.S. Senator John O. Pastore, the building was listed in the National Register in 1984 as a contributing building to the Downtown Providence Historic District.


A product of the New Deal-era Works Progress Administration (WPA), the three-story Pastore Federal Building is an example of Stripped Classical architectural style, with Art Deco elements. The Stripped Classical style features classical design tenets, such as symmetry and historical references in ornamentation, but is simple in its execution. Art Deco is noted for low-relief geometrical designs, accents in terra cotta and glass, and exterior wall coverings such as concrete, smooth-faced stone, and metal.

The building's exterior materials are red brick and limestone, with a granite base. A two-story, five-bay limestone frontispiece graces the east facade. A granite balustrade extends between the two entries, while a concrete and granite ramp was added to the south entrance in 1983. Streamlined pilasters are centered between the bays of windows and doors. A simple cornice with square dentils extends along the top of the frontispiece, and is echoed by a streamlined band of limestone along the roof's edge. Bronze-clad double doors are at each entrance. Projecting, gabled brick pavilions are located at either end of the facade. Each has centered windows framed with a limestone surround.

Cast concrete sculptures on the facade were created by artist Raymond Barger, a Maryland native who studied at the Carnegie Institute and Yale. Completed in 1940, the carved sculptures were executed under the WPA's federal art program. The sculptures above the two main entrances depict stylized eagles. On the projecting pavilions, the sculptures consist of the head and torso of human figures, a sun or moon and stars, and illustrations of different means of delivering mail. A "Contact Room" on the west (rear) side connected the second-floor postal workroom to railroad tracks along the Woonasquatucket River. Metal-clad columns set in the river support the room. The sides and rear of the building feature a simplified design treatment, with a granite base, limestone string course between the second and third stories, and a limestone roof band. The windows are accented by decorative sills and plain stone lintels. Above the rear entrances, granite cladding surrounds the second-story windows.

Inside, the first floor is divided into the postal lobbies and the large Postal Workroom, which encompasses approximately 90 percent of the floor area. The public spaces feature rose marble flooring and Tennessee Tarvernelle marble wainscoting. Elevator doors are sheathed in bronze and brass, and bronze trim frames the letter slots and service windows. An open screen of Greek key fretwork is above the service windows. Bulletin boards with bronze frames are alongside two classically detailed bronze writing tables, and a round writing table of similar design is near the service windows. Historic bronze light fixtures with octagonal frosted-glass pendants and eagle decorations adorn the lobby.

In 1971, 1972, the building's first major renovation was completed at a cost of approximately $1 million. The Alrae Construction Company of Providence performed the renovation work. The project's main component involved conversion of the second-story workroom into office space for federal agencies. Most of the second floor's interior configuration and finishes date from this period.

The third floor has always housed a variety of offices, including that of U.S. Senator John O. Pastore, for whom the building was named. In the third-floor corridor, terrazzo flooring, marble baseboards, and molded metal doors and trim comprise the decorative finishes. Wood windows with patterned glazing in the interior walls let light from the perimeter offices into the corridor.


1939-1940: Construction of federal building annex under the Works Progress Administration

1971-1972: Interior renovations completed

1977: Building renamed in honor of John O. Pastore

1984: Building listed in the National Register as part of Downtown Providence Historic District

Building Facts

Location: 2 Exchange Terrace

Architects: Jackson, Robertson & Adams

Construction Dates: 1938-1940

Architectural Style: Stripped Classical with Art Deco elements

Landmark Status: Listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing building to the Downtown Providence Historic District

Primary Materials: Red brick and granite

Prominent Features: Two-story limestone frontispiece; Cast concrete Art Deco reliefs; Original marble and bronze interior finishes

John O. Pastore Federal Building, Providence, Rhode Island

The Pastore Federal Building is located on the northwest corner of Exchange Terrace and Exchange Place in downtown Providence, Rhode Island. The building occupies all of a rectangular site, which was recently renovated as part of the alterations to the Woonasquatucket River. It is three stories high above a full basement, and clad in red brick with base and window trim of granite. The detailing is simple and modern in character, but relates well to the 1898 Union Station and 1922 Biltmore Hotel, which also face onto Kennedy Plaza, as well as the original Federal Building next door. The exterior remains largely intact, except for the re-configuration of second floor windows in the 1970's.

Inside, the first floor is divided into the public postal lobbies, located parallel to Exchange Terrace, and the large, open Postal Workroom, which takes up approximately 90 percent of the floor area. A first floor mezzanine contains lookouts and restrooms for the postal workers. Both the first floor and the mezzanine remain largely intact. The second floor, originally devoted to a second postal workroom, was divided into offices in 1971. In the mid-1990s the second floor was remodeled to incorporate two courtrooms and holding cells. The third floor, which was designed to house a variety of federal offices, retains many of the simple original details, though offices suites have been subdivided.

John O. Pastore Federal Building, Providence, Rhode Island

The United States Post Office Annex, designed in 1937-38 by the local architectural firm of Jackson, Robertson & Adams, was built in the waning days of the ambitious public works program generated by the Great Depression. Despite its restrained use of materials and ornamentation, it is important as one of the last projects to be designed by a private architectural firm. Its siting on Exchange Place Mall (now known as Kennedy Plaza) reinforces the objectives of Providence's City Plan Commission.

The building was turned over to the GSA in January 1961 following completion of the nation's first automated post office. The building remained under-utilized until the early 1970s, when long-planned renovations were finally undertaken. In 1977, the building was renamed for former Senator John O. Pastore, who had maintained offices there during his entire 26-year term.

This building is in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Downtown Providence Historic District.


Description Architect
Date unknown (between 1990 and 1996) Contact Room Demolished
1940 R0010: Original design drawing set Jackson, Robertson & Adams
1978 Air Conditioning and Modernization
1996 First floor renovation and sallyport addition
2004 1st and 3rd floor space renovation
2005 Fourth floor renovations
2006 Window renovations
2007 Fence and gate installed
2007 Office space renovations
Last Reviewed: 2022-05-19