Historic buildings have long memories. The old houses, community buildings, and workspaces dotting Providence offer portals through time, connecting present-day residents with our collective past, as well as hinting at futures to come. The elaborate Carpenter Gothic Kendrick-Prentice-Tirocchi House at 514 Broadway – widely known as the Wedding Cake House because of its resemblance to the traditional many-tiered dessert – has served as an architectural and cultural anchor for the neighborhood since 1867.
Bought by sisters Anna and Laura Tirocchi in 1915, the house became the new home of A&L Tirocchi Gowns, the sisters’ successful bespoke clothing business, attracting Providence’s wealthiest women as customers. After Anna’s death in 1947, the house sat vacant and then abandoned until it was given a new lease on life in 2017 thanks to the efforts of feminist arts not-for-profit organization Dirt Palace and its founders, Xander Marro and Pippi Zornoza, and the many artists and volunteers who contributed to its revitalization.
Restoration of the old house has been sensitively executed: original furnishings were preserved wherever possible, while contemporary work mixes thoughtfully with what remains. For example, the tiling around the fireplace in the Innkeeper’s quarters uses Eastlake-style tiles from the 1860s featuring blowsy roses, birds, and butterflies in flight that mix with new creations by trans queer Jewish artist Nicki Green, who incorporates Hebrew text and sacred symbols into her work as a means of questioning received ideas about belonging and otherness.
Another notable installation is in Room 2 on the second floor: a photograph by Rue Sakayama of the house mid-restoration, hung over a preserved wall showing the layers of wallpaper stripped during the renovation – a clever testament to the many histories underlying the house’s current iteration. Patchwork wallpaper by Jim Drain in a nearby nook references the complex piecing of custom garments that took place in the workrooms of the house, while upstairs, wooden window guards by multimedia artist Kristina L. Brown cleverly echo the distinctive pointed shapes of windows in the third floor and tower. In the resident reading room – the Tirocchi workers’ former sewing room – wallpaper designed by Lu Heintz borrows from period photographs and deconstructed garment patterns, printing them onto pattern-dot paper that present-day sewers use to scale their creations.
These days, the Wedding Cake House hosts artists’ residencies, neighborhood open houses, and a popular Airbnb: the perfect place to put up friends and family visiting the Creative Capital. Miranda Zhen-Yao, artist in residence and pro tem innkeeper from Mondays to Wednesdays, helps to create a warm and welcoming environment in the historic home (hardworking founders Marro and Zornoza, and Zhen-Yao for the remainder of every week). Prospective overnight guests are urged to visit the Wedding Cake House Airbnb site to explore the available rooms, including a bedroom whose closet is a former elevator shaft featuring a seven-foot stained glass window, and other spectacular rooms featuring private claw-foot tubs and artwork grounded in the history of the house. If you haven’t been inside yet, make attending an open house or booking a room your first priority: the building is a monument to the talent of the many women, immigrants, and artists who made our city great.
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