Mount Pleasant

Mount Pleasant High School is easily one of the most impressive buildings in the city of Providence. When one travels north on Academy Avenue toward Smith Street, LaSalle Academy attracts attention, but I always look over their athletic fields an enjoy seeing the towers of Mount Pleasant in the distance.

Mount Pleasant was built in 1938 in the ‘Collegiate Gothic Style,’ according to the Providence Preservation Society. There’s also some good background info here. Its a great example of the ‘last gasp’ of really great public architecture in Rhode Island before World War 2. As I’ve often said, I find it amazing that during the Depression, Americans found the resources to build magnificent, aspirational structures that no doubt served to keep up morale. When I see how public buildings, particularly schools, are built so cheap and ugly now, I compare them to structures like Mount Pleasant and despair at how cheap and short-sighted we can be.

Much like Cranston East, I also see these large public high schools as Rhode Island cultural building blocks. Tens of thousands of Rhode Islanders are intimately connected to this structure, something most landmarks cannot claim. Perhaps that is why we ignore them because they’re too ‘hoi polloi.’ I think we should re-evaluate how we see landmarks, and give more credit to the Mount Pleasants that were built for the people.

PVDFest 2019 commissioned me to model a Providence building of my choosing, and I chose Mount Pleasant. This is easily the largest model that I’ve created!

Over April break when the school was deserted, I spent some time walking around, taking pictures, and making some sketches. I don’t use the sketched to build, btw. The sketching process makes me pay attention to details like what are the windows, how many windows, etc. Also, something that modeling and drawing have in common is that you make choices as to what details are key, and what will simply be suggested.

I worked rapidly in May, pretty much using every spare of every evening and every weekend! Creating the facade was very challenging, and I spent a lot of time trying different ways of creating the distinct ornamentations that Mount Pleasant has on the top of its columns. I considered those to be very important details! Also, I did not model all of the additions on the back of the building, but I made sure to include the gymnasium wing. As one can see in the above photo, I built that facade as ‘detachable’ from the sides of building so I could get it out of the basement!

Even so, transporting a model this large was not easy. PVDFest gave me a space in the middle of Westminster Street. Micah Salkind, Special Projects Manager with Providence’s Art and Tourism Department, found nearby spaces to stash the model and helped me literally tow it on a garden cart to its spot for the weekend!

At PVDFest 2019 with a lobster roll! Photo taken by Paula Williams.

Sadly, the model of Mount Pleasant lives in sections in my basement. Several times, I have tried to donate it to the school for the students and staff to enjoy, but I can’t get a phone call or email returned. Having worked in public education for many years, I know that this is largely because school leadership generally do not have any spare seconds for anything that is not dealing with the crisis of the day, and there are always several. There is no oxygen for anything else. Public schools are not allowed the privilege of engaging anything that is not immediately germane to standardized testing.

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