Rhode Island Auditorium

also known as The Arena

A big hulking 5300-person capacity civic auditorium that hosted sports and entertainment for close to 50 years.

About this Property

#Reason for Demolition

The old arena was an East Side home to ice hockey, basketball, boxing, and occasional rock concerts. It opened in 1926 and lasted about 50 years before it was replaced by a new civic center in downtown. It hung around for about 10 years, hosting small events and concerts (as “The Main Event”) and even becoming a disco (called “11-11”)/roller skating venue, and then slowly decaying until 1989 when it was torn down.

#Current Events

The land that the arena occupied is owned by Miriam hospital and used for parking. In 2009 the RI Reds Heritage Society placed a plaque at the location to commemorate the arena and the hockey team.

#History

Quicks facts

From Wikipedia

Rhode Island Auditorium was an indoor arena in Providence, at 1111 North Main Street. The arena held 5,300 people and opened in 1926. It hosted the NBA’s Providence Steamrollers basketball team from 1946 until 1949, and the Providence Reds ice hockey team until the Providence Civic Center (now the Dunkin’ Center) was opened in 1972. It languished for over a decade until it was razed in 1989.

Overview

by Michael Delaney
Providence Journal | April 28, 2016

It was a grimy, crowded and often smoky place, but we loved the Rhode Island Auditorium on North Main Street in Providence.

Sports pictures from there now look primitive. The Rhode Island Reds hockey players wore no head protection. Transparent plexiglass had not become common, so chicken wire protected the fans from the flying puck.

The Providence Steamrollers basketball team played there for a few years in the 1940s. Famous boxer Rocky Marciano was actually from Brockton, Mass., but many of his great fights took place there. Not to mention appearances by Peter, Paul and Mary, the Ice Capades, and many others.

Ice Hockey at the Auditorium

From www.OnFrozenPond.com, now defunct

Rhode Island Auditorium was built in 1925 by a group of investors headed by Rhode Island native Hubert Milot. It opened on February 18, 1926. At that time there were only two other organized professional hockey teams in the United States, the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers.

Surprisingly, when the Auditorium made its debut, it was not for a hockey game. Instead, an overflow crowd of 6,000 spectators jammed the new building to enjoy an ice skating show.

The next fall, the Providence Reds joined the Canadian-American Hockey League composed of the Philadelphia Arrows, Quebec Beavers, New Haven Eagles and Boston Bruin Cubs. Judge James E. Dooley, a leading sports figure at the famed Narragansett Racetrack on the Pawtucket-East Providence line, was founder of the first Reds team. (Mr. Dooley also was part owner of the Providence Steamroller, short-lived NFL Football team )

Louis A. R. Pieri, a Brown University graduate, basketball and football player, became manager of the Auditorium in 1929. Then in 1938, he and his wife Mildred, daughter Lucille and son Louis took ownership of both the building and the Reds hockey team. Pieri later became one of the most important sports figures in the United States.

For years, while the big building stood on North Main Street, it was called both Rhode Island Auditorium and The Arena. Photos of the edifice show the name Rhode Island Auditorium, back-lit by neon lights on the marquee over the main entrance. Yet high above, at the very top of the building’s façade itself, was the word ARENA, painted in big, white capital letters.

The thousands of fans who flocked there for hockey, basketball, boxing and shows of every description, called it either Rhode Island Auditorium or The Arena. However, dating back to its very earliest years in the 1930s, the front page of every game program called it Rhode Island Auditorium.

Music at the Auditorium

Adam Ant, Aerosmith, Alex Hors Rock Time Band (1969), Jean Autrey, Beach Boys (1966), Bee Gees (1968), Blood Sweat And Tears (1968), Johnny Cash, Chicago Transit Authority, Cream, The Doors, Fats Domino, Bob Dylan and the Hawks, Aretha Franklin, Grand Funk Railroad (1970), Bill Halley and The Comets, the Jimi Hendrix Experience (1968), Iggy Pop, Rickie Lee Jones, The Mothers of Invention (1968), Buddy Myles, the Plasmatics, The Ramones, Buffalo Springfield, Steppenwolf, Sly and the Family Stone, George Thorogood & the Destroyers, U2, Vanilla Fudge (1968), The Who (1968), and the Young Rascals (1969).

More band info at RiRocks.net

Basketball at the Auditorium

Believe It Or Not, Celtics Were Once Regulars At The Old R.I. Auditorium

by Bill Reynolds
Providence Journal | November 10, 2010

It’s just a parking lot now, another parking lot on North Main Street full of ghosts and old memories, a faint reminder of a lost world.

Once upon a time it was the home of the Rhode Island Auditorium, where the Reds, a minor-league hockey team, played.

It’s also where the Celtics used to play some regular-season games.

Would you believe that every once in a while back in the 1950s there would be an NBA doubleheader in the R.I. Auditorium, which meant that in a league that had only eight teams, half of the NBA was on North Main Street?

Would you believe that back there in the mid-’50s the Celtics one afternoon played on a court that was so slippery that the players were constantly falling down?

Would you believe that the Celtics played some games there from 1950 through the mid-1960s?

It’s all true.

It seems like it happened in some alternate universe. Back then the Celtics players were just given the address of the Auditorium and had to get there by themselves. Bill Russell, who lived in a suburb north of Boston, had to find North Main Street in Providence before there was any Route 95.

Different world?

And then some.

So why were the Celtics here back then?

Money.

The owner of the Celtics was Walter Brown, who also owned the Boston Bruins and the Boston Garden. By 1950 his Celtics were all but bleeding money, and he needed financial help. He turned to his friend Lou Pieri, a portly man with slicked-back hair and dark suits who owned the R.I. Auditorium. Pieri kicked in some cash and became a minority partner of the Celtics. Part of the deal was that the Celtics would play a few games a year in Providence.

Pieri also had one more demand, one that would change the fate of the team.

He told Brown that the Celtics had to hire a young coach named Red Auerbach, who recently had been fired by some team called Tri-Cities. It seems that Pieri, whose Providence Steamrollers had played in the early years of the NBA and had been awful at the gate as well as on the court, had asked Auerbach for an evaluation of his team. Auerbach essentially told him that he had no players, a lousy arena, and probably needed another half-million dollars just to be competitive.

Pieri closed down the Steamrollers.

But he was so impressed with Auerbach that he told Brown that if he wanted his money, he had to hire Auerbach.

So it began.

The NBA had all the glamour of roller derby back in those early years, and the Celtics used to get outdrawn in the Boston Garden by the Globetrotters. There were a lot of years when the Celtics were always trying to make payroll, never mind win games. And a few times a year they came down to Providence to play in the Rhode Island Auditorium.

I sometimes think of those days when I’m in the TD Garden in Boston, with the light shows and the cheerleaders and the flashing message boards and all the other accoutrements of the contemporary NBA. How different the NBA of my childhood was!

I was in high school in the early 1960s, and invariably we’d go to a few Celtics games a year. You never needed to buy tickets ahead of time. They were cheap and you could always buy them at the door. We would sit behind one of the baskets, close to the floor. It was never crowded. There were no cheerleaders. There was no flash. It was the opposite of flash: a drafty old building where the rats ran around like they owned the place.

One night Russell knocked out the Lakers’ Jim Krebs with one punch at halfcourt.

Back then, Alumni Hall at Providence College and URI’s Keaney Gym had much more flash than the Celtics ever did in the Rhode Island Auditorium. At least for me. The college games were bright and shiny-new, with bands and atmosphere.

The Celtics in Providence? Just a basketball game where you could hear the sneakers squeaking.

The Celtics were in the middle of their glory years, in the midst of the most successful run in NBA history, full of names that live forever in Celtics history: Russell. Cousy. Heinsohn. Havlicek. Sharman. The Jones Boys. Sanders. And always Auerbach, the man now recognized as one of the greatest coaches in basketball history.

Did we know what we had then?

Not even close.

But they were here a few nights a year then, year after year.

A piece of Celtics’ history that’s now just a parking lot full of ghosts and memories.