Before the current building was erected, the site was location of the six story Butler Exchange building. Located at 55 Exchange Place and constructed in 1872, the land was purportedly deeded by the heirs of the original Samuel Butler. The 1872 building housed the Rhode Island Commercial School which was purchased and merged into Bryant & Stratton College in 1916, the forebear of modern-day Bryant University. As well as, many retail businesses such as Dodge and Camfield (importers and grocers) on street level, and Waite Auto Supply Company. The Providence Ladies' Sanitary Gymnasium was also a tenant. That building was demolished in 1925, after a devastating fire, to make way for a new tower.
Commissioned in 1925 by the Industrial Trust Company (founded in 1886 by Samuel P. Colt), the current building was constructed and opened during the inter-war boom period as the Industrial Trust Tower in 1927. Designed in the Art Deco style popular at the time, the building opened for tenants on October 1, 1928.
Its name became the Fleet Bank Tower in 1982 when Industrial Trust changed its name to Fleet Financial Group in 1982. It would remain Fleet's headquarters until Fleet merged with Shawmut National Bank in 1995 and moved to Boston.
In 1998, then FleetBoston Financial, (then the current owner) was acquired by Bank of America; and the building became known as the Bank of America Building. In 2008, shortly before the Great Recession in the United States, the building was purchased by High Rock Development of Massachusetts for $33.2 million. Bank of America was the building's sole tenant, and utilized about half the building. Bank of America invested $7 million in a new sprinkler and fire safety system.
In 2012, Bank of America, still the "Superman Building"'s sole tenant, decided not to renew its lease. The bank vacated the building, leaving it empty. High Rock 's requests for public funds to redevelop the building were turned down. State taxpayers, still smarting from the controversial money-losing loan to 38 Studios in 2012, were in no mood to offer public funding or tax credits.
It is estimated that at least $115 million would be needed to rehabilitate the building. In 2013, High Rock sued Bank of America for millions of dollars, claiming that the bank had neglected upkeep of the building and left it in a deteriorating state. The building is pockmarked with gaps of missing limestone, and is surrounded by scaffolding to prevent injuries to passers-by.
Of steel-frame structure sheathed in Indiana limestone, with Deer Island granite at its base, the tower was advertised as “A Business Building for Building Business.” It has six wings stemming from a central tower. Though stepped buildings in New York City had been a common solution for Manhattan's strict 1916 zoning policies regarding adequate light and air, there were no such restrictions in Providence; nevertheless, New York architects Walker & Gillette chose to include the innovative symmetrical stepped massing, with the assistance of local architect George Frederick Hall.
The base and the trim at the base's top were built to match the cornice height of existing adjacent (now gone) four-story buildings. It was among the tallest buildings in New England when completed, and ranked third after its construction to the 527 foot 1919 Travelers Tower in Hartford, Connecticut, and the 496 foot 1915 expansion of the Custom House Tower in Boston. The majority of relief art is found on the cornice of the tower's base. The twenty two frames depict various scenes of Native American & Colonist interaction and stages of Industrialization alongside four seals, and four eagles.
Dual street level staircases, rise at the east and west ends of a stately columned grand hall. The hall itself is about three stories in height, and runs the length of the building; the room contains the large windows that overlook Kennedy Plaza and the Arcade Building. The balcony level of the grand hall contains the lobby and entrance to an intimate ball room with marble fireplaces and brass chandeliers.
The 26th floor hosts the executive office for Industrial Trust Company. The suite contains secretary staff common areas, dining room and offices. A stairway leads to the higher north-face 29th level private 'dining car' or Gondola room designed to resemble the gondola of an airship; the room contains a wine closet and dark leather details. A peregrine falcon nest box is also located in the area. The 28th and 29th floors contain the gravity water-service system and two large tanks are housed on these levels for the buildings use. The 29th floor also contains a lavatory for service to the Gondola rooms and adjoining balconies.
The basement contains the vault. The vault was designed to house small and large items, supplied with storage areas for client possessions such as fine rugs. A 17-ton door is the primary security feature of the vault.
The metal doors and trim were manufactured by Dalhstrom Metallic Door Company, of Jamestown, New York. Some of these street-level doors possess relief art of eagles in brass. The original glass of the beacon was of green hue, and topped with a decorative globe, surrounded by seven and half ton circle of stone eagles. In 1932, it was damaged and repaired after a lighting strike. This architectural feature removed in 1950 after one eagle fell to the street below in 1930.
Floors 5, 12, 14, 17, 18, 26 and 30 each recede back to form the buildings distinctive profile. From nightfall until midnight, the building's peak is traditionally lit a bright blue with varying red and green at Christmas, and Valentine's Day. The building has remained relatively unchanged over the years with the exception of the lobby, the upper windows and the 2 story turret tower and light beacon. Due to its vacant occupancy the exterior lights illuminating the superstructure are not lit. In 1973, the beacon tower was turned off for the first time since 1928 to conserve energy.
The building has remained relatively unchanged over its years. The latest update came when tenant Bank of America installed new fire suppression systems for a cost of $7 million USD around 2007.
In 2011, speculation simmered that Bank of America, the building's last tenant, would move out at the end of its ten-year lease; which eventually led to the bank's 2012 announcement that it would vacate the space the coming year. In March 2013, Bank of America officially ceased operations at the building leaving the Providence landmark facing Kennedy Plaza unoccupied since. The Providence nighttime skyline was subsequently affected as the exterior nighttime lighting used to illuminate the upper structure was shut off, with the exception of the peak light.
Subsequently, new owner High Rock Development - who purchased the building in 2008 for $33 Million USD - proposed a plan to convert the building into mostly luxury apartments, involving $80 million in tax credits from the State[A]. This plan was rejected and the State has applied to move some of their Health and Human Services offices into the now vacant property. High Rock Development has since offered a four-year plan that would require $40 million in new funding for the rehabilitation of the tower into a mix of uses that include retail, business and 285 residential units. The former and new financing proposals were met with mixed reaction with several individuals noting High Rock Development has $200 million available to put towards the rehab effort but have declined to do so.
In 2014, after a 2012 independent appraisal, Providence group Scotti and Associates determined that the building had "no value."
During the 1950s, it was rumored that 111 Westminster Street served as the model for the Daily Planet building in the Superman comic book. The building is still referred to by Providence locals as the "Superman Building" for its resemblance to that of the comic and 1950s television series. However, Superman co-creator Joe Shuster claims he drew his inspiration not from the Providence building (nor the also rumored AT&T Huron Road Building in Cleveland, Ohio, where Shuster was living at the time), but rather from his home city of Toronto (such as the Commerce Court North and the Fairmont Royal York). The building shown in the television program, however, is the Los Angeles City Hall.
The downtown Providence building, and its neighbors, are displayed prominently on the skyline of the fictional City of Quahog, Rhode Island, the setting of the American adult animated sitcom Family Guy. The building is often seen behind the Griffins family's home on fictional Spooner Street.
The current building at 111 Westminster Street influenced design elements seen in the Providence Place Mall's two turrets.