Photo courtesy of the Providence Journal
If you find yourself driving around the East Side of Providence, Rhode Island, you may find yourself passing by what was once the center of the area’s hockey universe without even knowing it. A nondescript parking lot at 1111 North Main Street once buzzed with activity every winter Saturday night. It was on this spot that the old Rhode Island Auditorium once stood. From 1926 until 1972 the red barn on North Main was the home to the Providence Reds of the American Hockey League.
At the time of its construction, there were only two professional hockey teams in the United States, the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers. The new arena was built to capitalize on the growing popularity of ice hockey in the area. As the only indoor rink in Rhode Island at the time, teams from all over the state drove to Providence to get ice time, no matter what the hour.
The first event at the new rink was an ice-skating show which attracted an overflow crowd of over 6,000. The Reds won four Calder Cups while playing at the Auditorium. The franchise, which left Providence in 1977, still operates today as the Hartford Wolf Pack after spending 20 seasons in Binghamton, New York. It is the oldest continuously operating franchise in all minor league hockey.
Photo courtesy of RIReds.org
In addition to serving as home to the Reds, the 5,300 seat Auditorium was home to the NBA’s Providence Steamrollers from 1946 until 1949 and the Providence College Friars hockey team from 1952 to 1973. Through the years, the venue hosted concerts, The Ice Capades and religious events. Rocky Marciano held 28 of his 49 fights at the Auditorium. A riot after a 1969 concert by Sly and the Family Stone here caused a temporary ban on all rock concerts in the city.
After the Reds left for the new downtown Providence Civic Center (now named the Amica Mutual Pavilion), the old barn tried to hang on, hosting small events and concerts as “The Main Event” (U2 played here in 1980), was used as a tennis venue, and was even converted to a disco/roller skating rink (called “11-11”).
Photo courtesy of ArtInRuins.com
The Auditorium was finally torn down in 1989. Parking for employees of The Miriam Hospital now occupies the site. In 2009, the Rhode Island Reds Heritage Society, a group formed to commemorate the hockey team, marked the site with a plaque commemorating the team’s existence.