Curse me as a curmudgeon, but don’t you think it’s kind of embarrassing to keep referring to the Industrial National Bank Building at 111 Westminster St. in Providence as the “Superman Building?”

Some wags in the media, trying too hard by half, apparently christened it that in order to be clever. They must have thought it was dull and fusty to simply call a bank a bank.

Seeing some of the TV commercials for banks and insurance companies that are currently popular, it might have appeared to make sense, but only if skimming the surface is a good strategy to build an ad campaign around.

For example, one insurance giant seems to believe that wet teddy bears, people that look like their dogs, and a goofy security guy and his emu partner ought to convince us that the sponsoring corporation is solid, trustworthy, and sensible. You know, all those qualities that we hope our insurance provider will possess.

The only thing is that in the case of the Industrial National Bank building the nickname was applied because the 428-foot tall, 26-story tower looks vaguely like the Los Angeles City Hall, an image of which is featured in the opening introduction of the 1950s television series “Adventures of Superman.” Talk about thin reeds.

The Industrial National Bank is iconic in its own right, not since it slightly resembles a building a continent away, but because it is the tallest building in Rhode Island. It has survived several hurricanes and has been a treasured historic landmark for generations of Ocean Staters.

According to Wikipedia, built in 1928, the art deco skyscraper is sheathed in Indiana limestone. Its features include a large safe in the basement that has a 17-ton door. Also, there is a “gondola room” on the 29th level. Designed to resemble the gondola of an airship, it was meant to serve as a private dining room and was adjacent to the executive level 26th floor. At street level, a three-story high, columned ballroom extends the length of the building, and there is also an intimate ballroom with marble fireplaces and brass chandeliers off of it.

Seen while driving into the capitol city from every direction, the former Industrial National Bank is a landmark that punctuates the skyline. Vacant since 2012, it has attracted no rescuing tenant, but approaching Providence you look for it the way you look to be sure something dear is still there.

As someone recently observed, to demolish it would be like pulling out your own front tooth. Yet that possibility has been raised.

Calling it the Superman Building speaks volumes about the rather pathetic mindset that some of us Rhode Islanders have adopted.

Many of us want to see the symbol of our past grandeur endure, but will that objective be advanced by weak metaphors that entirely miss the mark?

Even the casually curious investor is likely to reflect that we in the state must be desperate. After all, don’t we think that likening our once proud symbol of commercial vibrancy to a completely different structure that has a casual connection to a comic book legend will somehow confer special status on our own aged tower? Seems pretty lame, doesn’t it?

It might be another story if it really were the building that Superman leaped in a single bound. However, because it isn’t that place, calling it such can only invite derisive laughter. It suggests a futile gesture that befits a wannabe mentality.

“Hey, look at us. We want you to know that we think our troubled skyscraper will remind people of the real one that a comic book hero cum TV sensation sort of made famous. Wow!

“Oh, and when NFL teams come to play the Patriots in Foxboro, they often stay in Providence, and we used to have a storied Triple A Red Sox affiliate over in Pawtucket, but they’re not here anymore. Aren’t you interested in buying the Superman Building and turning it into luxury condos, now?”

Well, I guess I had to get that off my chest, but don’t let it leave a bad taste in your mouth. It’s Thanksgiving time, and while calling the Industrial National Bank building a silly name might be a turkey of an idea, it’s just this cranky guy’s opinion.

Enjoy the holiday and look up in the sky. It might be a bird or a plane, but it won’t be Superman.

(Contact me at

Bottom Lines

On one of the first Thanksgivings at which I was the host, I made a great flourish and began slicing the turkey, only to have it slide unceremoniously from the platter and land at my feet. The dozen or so people at the table stared at me in stunned silence as, chagrined, I looked for a place to hide. If you have a similar experience, send it to me in 35 words or less. I will run the first suitable submission in this space.

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