A fine picture of 257-267 Benefit Street, Providence, perhaps 1940s or 50s? Here I’ve newly colourised the picture. It gives a flavour of the street as Lovecraft knew it. With the NecronomiCon convention and Henry Armitage Symposium set to visit Providence again later this year, I thought a few posts on the sights (such as they can be seen on Google StreetView and old pictures) would be in order,

This was perhaps Lovecraft’s most cherished street, after his birthplace. We see here a better section, just past the Athenaeum and the College Street ‘crossroads’ with Benefit Street. The homes are still there today, although the street is marred by parked cars (sadly the AI that removes parked cars from street photos has not yet been invented)…

The pillared porches are now a painted a dull brown, presumably to hide the staining from the vehicle pollution. The once-fashionable cladding of living vines has been torn down from the brickwork.

By the look of it on the map, this would be the way that Lovecraft would have taken to walk from No. 66 down to the passenger-docks. There to meet Loveman or Morton — or anyone else who preferred to visit by the New York boat rather than by the railway.

A large part of the north section of Benefit Street was becoming slum-like in his time, with weedy and refuse-strewn gardens around rented houses, and tight shutters on un-let houses. Lovecraft would remark on…

northern Benefit street, whose appealing old houses and romantic topography merit a better fate than the slumdom now overtaking them.

This half of the street having been allowed to decay, in 1959 the city and Brown swooped in with plans to bulldoze the top of the hill, including Benefit Street. In favour of grim 1960s modernist tower-blocks. Thankfully the scheme failed. Thus some Lovecraft sites remain.

F.E. Seagrave had kept a substantial astronomical observatory at 119 Benefit Street in Lovecraft’s youth…

Mr. Seagrave, who is connected with the astronomical department of Harvard University, and who is one of the foremost astronomers of the present time, formerly had an observatory on Benefit Street in this city.” (Lovecraft, 1914)

And this was where Lovecraft would have moved into, later in his life. Had the opportunity to rent 66 College Street not arisen, he would have spent his last years alone in a rented room in…

the old Seagrave mansion where the noted astronomer F.E. Seagrave dwelt & had his private observatory until 1914

Instead, from his window at 66 College Street, the treetops of Benefit Street rimmed the sunset views of his city with the darkening cosmos above it.

Possibly Lovecraft had the worrying decline of this northern section of Benefit Street in mind when writing the political fairy-tale “The Street” in 1919. At 135 Benefit Street was “The Shunned House”, also the inspiration for his poem “The House”.

The decline continued, after his death. By the early 1940s the real-life street harboured a “vice palace”, raided by the FBI. A depressing novel of the time, set in a seedy boarding-house in the northern part of the street, provoked While Benefit street was young (1943) and The pageant of Benefit street down through the years (1945), publications which defended the street against the impression that all of its mile length was now a slum. By the 1960s restoration work on the supposedly ‘beyond repair’ houses in the northern section had begun, brick sidewalks were renewed by craftsmen along with the addition of more in-keeping lamp-posts.

Further along the street again, Ken Faig Jr. has Lovecraft’s uncle living and working as a doctor at 186 Benefit Street. Lovecraft’s funeral service was held opposite, at 187 Benefit Street. The grim irony of a funeral parlour facing a doctor’s house would not have escaped the young Lovecraft. What appears to be a city Armory would have been alongside the doctor’s house, adding another layer of irony. Aka the Benefit Street Arsenal, or the Marine Corp Armory. Not to be confused, it seems, with the much bigger State Armory which was also in Providence.

Judging by Google Street View, 186 Benefit Street is now a car-park, but 187 remains…

The Poe-haunted St. John’s Churchyard could be accessed off Benefit Street. His beloved Pendleton House (‘Colonial House’) and the neighbouring RISD Museum were at 224 Benefit Street (on which more next week).