A winter-time front view of 114 Freeman Parkway, the house on which the Hanson residence, from TV's Providence is based.

Quirky drama spotlights the Renaissance City.

114 Freeman Parkway, Providence

"Quirky drama." "Renassance City." We're in the late 1990s, right?

Yes, indeed, and it's hard to believe that a whole generation has sprung up that has no firsthand knowledge of the hit NBC television drama Providence. At the time it was a big deal around here. Rhode Island would go on to enjoy national and worldwide celebrity in a number later television shows and movies, but in 1999 Providence was our first big taste of fame.

114 Freeman Parkway in Providence is the original of the house that was featured on the show. If you visit (or simply view it on Google Street View), you may notice that the property differs a bit from its small screen counterpart. The front of the real house is obscured by foliage while the front of the TV house is not. You may also notice that the real driveway is in the rear rather than on the side. That's because the house on TV is a replica. Dr. Sydney Hansen (Melina Kanakaredes) and Dr. Jim Hansen (Mike Farrell) do not really live here—real people live here. Please do not bother them.

Providence was a mid-season replacement that debuted on January 8, 1999. Produced by John Masius (co-creator of Touched By An Angel, executive producer of Saint Elsewhere), Providence is the story of Dr. Sydney Hansen, a thirty-ish Beverly Hills plastic surgeon. In the first episode Syd returns home to Providence to attend her sister's (Paula Cale) wedding. She soon discovers that her sister had to get married—she's pregnant. The wedding is then interrupted—permanently—when Mrs. Hansen (Concetta Tomei) dies of an ill-timed heart attack. Syd returns to L.A., only to find her agent boyfriend in the shower with another man, and she flees back to Rhode Island in time to help deliver her sister's baby daughter. Feeling unfulfilled by her job and betrayed by her boyfriend, Syd makes the decision to remain in Providence (where it always seems to be autumn) to be with her quirky yet lovable family.

Subsequent episodes revolved around Syd's new job at Saint Claire's Family Clinic, her loser brother's (Seth Peterson) many failures, her romantic entanglements with her secret high school crush, her grieving misanthrope father's veterinary practice, and her unwed sister's efforts to run a bakery for pets ("The Barkery") while raising a baby, all strung together by Sydney's nocturnal conversations with her dead, chain-smoking mother.

Many Rhode Islanders enjoyed watching the show to see what the producers got wrong. None of the principal characters has a Rhode Island accent, cars are often seen driving the wrong way down one-way streets and made-up place names (like "Providence High School") are common. In one episode Kanakaredes' character goes to Prospect Park for a bit of soul-searching, where she finds a seat next to a fountain—a landscape feature that, while nice, does not exist in real life. In another afternoon scene Syd is seen pensively strolling alone on the bank of the Providence River, with Waterfire burning merrily away in the foreground. This induces either giggles or indignation in those who have attended Waterfire at night and who have had to elbow their way through the dense crowds just to catch a glimpse of a flaming brazier.

The production was based in Los Angeles, but in 1999 and 2000 the cast and crew journeyed twice a year to our fair state for location footage in such places as Jamestown, the Gilbert Stuart Museum in North Kingstown, and Waterplace Park. In October 2000, they were at the Aldrich Mansion in Warwick, which was also used extensively in the 1998 film Meet Joe Black. Former Providence Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci would host lavish parties at his East Side home for the cast and crew whenever they were in town, and he even once flew out to Los Angeles for a cameo.

It's mere luck that Providence the city ended up with such a fantastic marketing tool in Providence the show. According to Mike Fresco, one of the show's executive producers and directors, the show's name was chosen "because it was a neat name," and not because anyone was thinking of the Ocean State's capital city. Location scouts who toured Providence felt it embodied many of the qualities producers wanted for the show, including a sense of "going home, warm and good feelings."

Stalking Melina

Photos Courtesy of Victoria Somlo

In the spring of 1999, the production was at 114 Freeman Parkway filming the last scene of the last episode of the first season. Afterwards, Melina Kanakaredes signed autographs and posed for pictures with the children of local families. A friend of ours was there and got some pictures of her own. Check out this photo series we like to call "Stalking Melina."

[Note: Quahog.org neither condones nor sponsors stalking —ed.]

We've spotted the elusive Melina Kanakaredes, a handsome specimen of dramatis personae. Television stars can be very dangerous when cornered, so we'll stand safely behind this Providence City police officer while Victoria approaches cautiously from Melina's left.

Moving slowly and using the children for cover, Victoria edges closer to her quarry. We don't think Melina has noticed her yet.

When hunting television actresses, one must always be extra alert. Keep your eye on Melina, Victoria! Don't forget those three-inch nails can tear through plate steel!

Uh oh, it looks like Victoria has been spotted. Melina is getting ready to charge. Victoria will need some quick thinking and faster reflexes to get out of this one.

Success! A well-placed tranquilizer dart has subdued the actress enough to allow Victoria to approach safely. Victoria will now tag Melina's ear and release her back into the wild.

Information

Cost: free

Time required: allow five minutes

Hours: dawn to dusk

This is private property. Please be respectful.

Finding it: take Route 95 to Route 195 East; take exit 3 for Gano Street and take a right at the end of the ramp; continue straight for several blocks; Gano Street will become Taber Avenue; Providence House will be on your right on the northeast corner of Taber and Freeman Parkway.

What’s nearby

Distances between points are actual distances, without regard to creeks or cowardly dogs. Your travel distance will be longer.

This article last edited October 10, 2015

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