Hidden PVD

From the Vault

Peeking inside the empty heart of the Superman Building


When I moved to Providence 11 years ago, the first job I applied for was a teller’s position at Bank of America. I didn’t want the job, but I was a 22 year old, freshly minted English major who spent most of his senior year writing about Disney’s wartime cartoon output in the ‘40s or John Carpenter’s The Thing. Clearly, I didn’t want any job that summer. But what stands out about that half-assed grab for pen-on-a-ball-chain notoriety was that my interview was held in the Superman Building, back when it was still a functional bank. That big, cavernous lobby, hallways that felt rich with history. It was like walking through time. Years later, on assignment for this magazine, I got a chance to revisit this grand former bank. The lights were out, and the counters eerily displayed the bank’s last date of business to the ghosts of customers past. The opulence had turned into ominence.

There were a lot of highlights of that tour – a peek inside the core of the building’s beacon tower, the gondola room that may have played a role in inspiring the whole zeppelin dock myth – but the vault beneath the banking hall, with its 17-ton doors and popped open lock boxes, was like walking into the aftermath of a comic book heist. What once held $6 billion in assets looked ransacked, as if the Beagle Boys or a bunch of knit-mask wearing goons working at the behest of a clown kingpin had had their run of the place. It’s still my favorite moment of my favorite day as a writer here.