According to urban myth the tallest building in Providence is commonly believed to be the model for the Daily Planet Building in the comics, television series and films of Superman. It’s not, but a good story is often better than the truth, so as the building changed ownership and the name of the building changed, most Rhode Islanders have taken to referring to it as “Superman Building.” The actual building used in the 1950s Adventures of Superman television program was the Los Angeles City Hall. The Daily Planet Building’s depiction in comics over the years has been far from consistent.
I maintain that the nickname for the building is not only spurious in origin, it’s insulting to the character of Superman. Grant Morrison, a Superman writer who has documented the Man of Steel in the book, Supergods, explains the character in this interview:
At the beginning, Superman was very much a socialist superhero. He fought for the unemployed, the oppressed, he beat up wife-beaters. It’s about a man driven by a burning sense of injustice — there are no monsters or robots, he fights against corrupt council officials! He was conceived as a Depression-era superhero, who dealt with the problems of ordinary people.
Morrison describes a Superman very different from the political and symbolic role the former Bank of America Building plays in present day Rhode Island politics. In the shadow of that architectural monolith lies Kennedy Plaza, now threatened for extermination precisely because the busing hub serves ordinary people, the unemployed and the oppressed. Instead of fighting against corrupt city officials, the former Industrial Trust Tower seems to actively collude with the political power structure. Indeed, the building has more in common with Superman’s arch-nemesis Lex Luthor, the brillaint super-villainous corporate executive who cares only for his own fortune and power and nothing for the rest of humanity.
In deference to Superman’s good name, I can only refer to that piece of real estate by its address, 111 Westminster, and I ask everyone who believes in truth and justice to join me.