Sights ~ The Turk's Head Building ~ Providence

The Turk's Head Building
76 Westminster Street
Providence, Rhode Island

Turk's Head Building, Providence, RI by I {heart} Rhody

The Turks Head building is easily one of the more recognizable buildings in Providence. It's one of the landmarks I was eager to show Bear when we first moved here, and it's easy to find, since it stands at the corner where Westminster Street meets Weybosset, forming a small plaza.

This was the heart of the financial district in its day, though a lot of the banks are gone, their buildings remain.  Recently I saw a couple in wedding clothes having their picture taken there. Traffic was not pleased, but they sure looked happy.

The building stands on the site of a former shop owned by Jacob Whitman that dated back to 1750. Back then, shops advertised with clever names and signs to catch the attention and memory of a largely illiterate population. Thus Whitman mounted the figurehead (an Ottoman warrior) from the ship Sultan above his store, which he called "At the sign of the Turk's Head." Sadly, that original figurehead was lost in a storm.

The current 16-story highrise was designed in 1913 by New York architects Howells & Strokes, and built by the Brown Land Co. as an investment for members of the Brown family. They added the eponymous Turk's Head embellishment as an homage to Whitman's shop.

Turk's Head building by I {heart} Rhody

Here's a close-up of his  rather imposing face.
Turks Head Building

The shape of the building recalls the "Flatiron Building" in New York, which was completed in 1902 by D. H. Burnham.

The architects used new building methods that were being discovered at the beginning of the 20th century: the weight of the building is distributed through a steel cage which depends upon pillars of concrete extending down into the earth to bedrock.

The Turk's Head embellishment gets so much attention that it's easy to forget there's a lot of other detail on the building. For example, the belt around the 3rd floor of the building has a repeating bas relief of gryphons.

Turks Head Building Belt Detail

At the top of the facade are leaf cornices and dentillations.
Turks Head Building dentillations

The interior is very self-aware, and carries the Turk's Head motif through to the lobby, where there is a different "turk's head" inlaid in the floor. This appears to be a copy of a coin minted in Italy in 1482 honor of Mehmed II, ruler of the Byzantine Empire. Mehmed is notable for being the Ottoman who was defeated by Vlad III Dracula of Wallachia, who is the original "Dracula" of legend. Vlad got the nickname "Vlad the Impaler" for his treatment of Mehmed's troops.

I haven't figured out how this relates to the building itself. Perhaps the original figurehead was of Mehmed. I don't have any research to prove or disprove.

Turks Head Building
medallion on floor 
medallion image via Wikipedia
There's also a tile portrait of a Turk's Head that hangs just outside the bank lobby. For some reason it reminds me of the Shroud of Turin.
Turks Head Building

Also in the lobby are a couple of high water marks from when the Hurricane of 1938 and Hurricane Carol flooded the city.

Turks Head Building

I've read that the Turk's Head Building was also featured in one of the scenes from the Disney movie Underdog. I still haven't seen the movie, but it's on my list.


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