Peter Laudatti

Inducted: 2023
Born: 1884
Died: 09/14/1977

Peter Laudatti was a dominant figure in the history of sports in Rhode Island during the first half of the 20th century. He was involved in numerous sporting ventures, including bicycling, baseball, boxing, football, and soccer. Born in 1884 at Sante Croce del Sannio in Italy, he immigrated to the United States with his family when he was twelve years old. As owner of the Peter A. Laudati and Son real estate company, he developed properties in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Florida. By the second decade of the 19th century, Laudati was heavily involved as a sports promoter. In 1924, he developed Kinsley Park in Providence, home for a time not only to the Providence Steam Rollers but also to the Providence Grays professional baseball team. At Kinsley Park, the famous 1927 barnstorming baseball game between Babe Ruth’s Bustin’ Babes and Lou Gehrig’s Larrupin’s Lous took place in early October–Gehrig’s team won 13 to 7.

Providence was once home to one of the nation’s more critical sporting venues before the Dunk or the Rhode Island Auditorium were built, and even before the appearance of nearby Massachusetts sports centers like the Seekonk Speedway and Gillette Stadium in nearby Foxboro, there was the Providence Cycledrome, built by Laudatti in 1925. This property is a tale of three things: competitive cycling, a football stadium, and the Providence Steamrollers. Located on the Providence-Pawtucket line off North Main Street, it was host to exciting bicycle races at a time when bicycle racing was a major sport. Bicycles were a new concept that became a craze. Despite the relatively high cost, many people purchased bicycles, and before long, the idea of racing bicycles took hold. Numerous “wheelmen” clubs help spread the sport of bicycle racing–first for fun and later for money. Professional cyclists and specialized venues that would charge admission soon appeared. The Cycledrome had bleacher seats that could accommodate 10,000 fans. When completed in 1925, the bicycle track was said to be the largest and fastest bicycle track in the United States. The track was constructed of wood, with five laps equaling one mile. The arena was put to good use, accommodating some of the best motor-paced bicycle racing in the country that attracted the best cyclists of its day. It also hosted football games, both professional and high school, soccer matches, prize fights, band concerts, and other forms of entertainment. Incandescent lighting made evening matches possible. In 1930, permanent floodlights, the first such lights in the nation, were installed. Each evening featured a series of professional and amateur events, including single racers, sprints, tandem biking, and relays. Tickets were 35 cents for general admission and $1.10 for grandstand seats. 

The sport of high-speed bicycle racing was decidedly dangerous. Accidents with injuries were common. In 1929, the Cycledrome was the site of two racing fatalities occurring just weeks apart. Twenty-three-year-old Dan Piscione of Thornton, a popular cyclist with the fans, died on August 22, 1929, two days after he was injured while training for the Golden Wheel race scheduled to be held the day he died. Only weeks earlier, August Gaethof, a motorcycle pacemaker, was killed when the front tire on the motorcycle he was riding blew during a race. Several cyclists were injured during the accident that killed Gaethof. The Cycledrome is best remembered today as the home stadium of the 1928 National Football League champions, the Providence Steam Rollers. The Steam Rollers professional football team was formed in 1916 by Charles Coppen and Pearce Johnson, the sports editor, and a sportswriter, respectively, at The Providence Journal. The team played initially at Kinsley Park, but in 1925, under the joint ownership of Coppen, Laudati, and James Dooley, moved its games to the Cycledrome, the same year the team joined the National Football League (NFL). The field was inside the steeply banked track, which cut the end zones to just five yards in depth. During games, temporary seating was permitted on the straight-away portion of the track, which was so close to the field that players, after being tackled, often found themselves in the stands. The team’s most successful year came in 1928 when it won the NFL championship with a record of 8-1-2 under its able player/coach, Jimmy Conzelman. The Steam Rollers would continue to play in the NFL until 1931, when the franchise was suspended at the end of the season. In 1933, the owners turned the franchise back to the NFL.

During its brief tenure in the NFL, it achieved several league “firsts” in 1929. The team was the first time an NFL team played a game under the lights when it hosted the Chicago Cardinals; however, it was played at Laudati’s Kinsley Park and not the Cycledrome. The other “first,” probably never to be matched again, occurred when the team played four league games in six nights. Unfortunately for the home team, despite such extraordinary physical exertions, they resulted in no wins, three losses, and a tie. 

The Great Depression crippled professional bicycle racing. In much need of repair, the stadium held on with dwindling attendance until it finally closed in 1934. The property was auctioned several times to pay back taxes, but no takers were willing to keep the stadium. It was demolished in 1937. As a testimonial to Laudati’s entrepreneurial spirit, after the Cycledrome was finally demolished, the promoter built the E.M. Loew drive-in movie theater on its site. When the drive-in opened in 1937, it was only the third drive-in movie theater in the country. One account in The Providence Journal noted that a building permit was issued to Laudati for the building of a stage for $3,000, and the cost of the total project, including grading of land, building ramps, and installation of equipment, was projected to cost $50,000–a considerable sum of money during the Great Depression years.

Peter Laudati passed away on September 14, 1977, one month before his 93rd birthday. After his death, the drive-in was torn down, and a shopping plaza was built.

Peter Laudatti was inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2023. 

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