Sept. 29: Rustic Tri Vue Drive-In, North Smithfield RI

It’s Day 272 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. The direct route from Mansfield Center CT to North Smithfield RI is mostly US Highway 6, the old Grand Army of the Republic Highway. Driving for about an hour and a half, it was a classic way to get to the state’s only remaining drive-in, the Rustic Tri View Drive-In.

The Rustic opened as a single-screen drive-in in 1951. My old Theatre Catalogs list the first owner as M. Stanzler. That’s might be Meyer Stanzler, who ran the nearby Boro Drive-In and later owned the Rhodes On The Pawtuxet ballroom.

At some point in the 1960s or 70s, the Rustic switched to adult films, and during this period attracted a reputation that lingered long enough to be brought up in a 2013 TV interview.

That changed in 1986 when Clem and Beverly Desmaris, who first met at the Rustic decades earlier, purchased the place and switched to general release movies. Clem told The New York Times a decade later, “(W)e were skeptical about business if we dropped the X-rated movies. But we wanted it to be a family place again, so we added a couple of screens, figured we’d make a go of it, and business has been good ever since.” Those two extra screens were added in 1988, changing the drive-in’s name to include Tri-View.

A 2007 article in the Providence Journal, captured on a post at Film-Tech.com, talked about their daughter Beth Desmaris, who took over after her parents passed away in 2001. She said that she sometimes sold out all three screens on busy weekend nights, and that some patrons actually asked her why the Rustic doesn’t have matinees (“and the scary thing is, they’re serious.”)

The Providence Business News picked up the next big change. Just before the 2008 season, the Desmaris family sold the Rustic to Boston Culinary Group, a food-service management company that had previously helped run the Rustic’s concession stand. Among its 21 theaters, it’s the only drive-in. The director of the company’s theater division told PBN that company founder Joseph O’Donnell “didn’t want to see the place close – that was a big part of it. There wasn’t interest right away [from others] in buying it.”

The Rustic upgraded to digital projection in June 2013, prompting a lengthy interview with plenty of video clips of the drive-in on WPRI, Providence’s News Leader. The menagerie that roams the grounds during the day underscores just how remote and tree-lined this place is.

That’s a very good video, but few can beat a good drone shot like today’s embedded YouTube video by Sonny Solan. I like the set-up context that many of these drone videos lack. For still more video, try a 2008 staycation postcard of the Rustic from The Herald News.

Miles Today / Total: 55 / 31772 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Mother! / 172

Nearby Restaurant: It’s only a mile and a half to drive from Lil & Gene’s Restaurant to the Rustic, though the trip in the other direction is almost five miles because you can’t turn left out of the drive-in. Lil & Gene’s is the place to be on a Friday night for the seafood. Fish and chips plus crab cakes plus clam chowder all add up to a real Friday feast!

Where I Virtually Stayed: The Hampton Inn in Smithfield is just 10 minutes away from the drive-in, and it’s still my favorite chain. It offers a free shuttle to the Twin Rivers Casino, which would have been attractive on a night the drive-in was closed. There were cookies waiting for me when I checked in. My room had all the modern amenities, and breakfast was the very nice, dependable Hampton standard.

Only in North Smithfield: A 20-foot tall milk can building sits just up the highway from the Rustic. According to the ReStore the Milk Can Building in North Smithfield page on Facebook, “Opened as The Milk Can in 1929 as an ice cream shop and closed in 1968, the milk bottle building is empty. … This building is an important, historical, Rhode Island landmark and should be renovated before it is too late! Spread the word until the right person reads about it and makes it happen! We can make a difference!”

Next stop: Mendon Twin Drive-In, Mendon MA.

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