It is easy to get swept up in the excitement of thinking about the ideas I want to explore with this project, the process of conducting the archival research, starting to work with the dancers, creating material. But before I can launch myself into that, I have had to research the ownership of the Arcade in order to establish what access I can have to the site.
I started my initial research just over a month ago, and have since then established the ownership of the Arcade, but have not been successful in getting in touch with the owners. The Westminster Arcade is owned by Granoff Associates, a real estate management company who also own the lot adjacent to the Arcade towards the river. This lot is the site of the infamous “Weybosset façade”, which remains standing after the demolition of the Providence National Bank Building (the 1940s facade was saved after protests at its demolition, and was intended to be incorporated into the new structure on the site- the residential tower that was never built). The Westminster Arcade has its controversial side too with evicted tenants, and financial struggles, and both the Arcade and the Weybosset facade have been the focus of activities intended to highlight the failure of the development plans.
I was aware of these histories before entering into this project. Indeed, the debates over the use of the Arcade, and its current derelict state contrasted with its celebrated history were part of what drew me to the building. But despite my desire to engage with questions of abandonment, change, and memory, I do not approach this project with a desire to highlight the controversial and political nature of the site or subversive ends. The controversy over the site is relevant to my project, but is not the motivation.
Suffice to say that these are contested spaces, and the ownership of the sites is part of the politics of development and land use in 21st century Providence, a fact which does not bode well for my interest in gaining access to the Arcade for this project. And sure enough, one research-filled month, numerous unanswered phone messages, and one unsuccessful in-person visit later, I have not been able to talk to the Arcade’s property representative, Lisa Marrocco (she has represented the property since at least 2005, before the name of Granoff Associates was directly linked to the Arcade). While this is perhaps not surprising, it is nevertheless frustrating, and I am left contemplating the next steps of the project in light of not being able to have a conversation with the owners. It is partially a question of access. The interior of the Arcade is inaccessible because it is chained shut, but the portico area is open to the street and is accessible. Nevertheless, it is private property and using the space in an unauthorised way could elicit a reaction from the owners. Additionally, as Lisa Marrocco has represented the property for so many years, I would be interested to talk to her about her perceptions of the site and gain an insight into the business of managing the property.