It’s Day 302 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Coming from the Warwick Drive-In Theatre, just across the border near Warwick NY, it took just an hour and a half to drive to the Circle Drive In Theatre in Dickson City PA.
The important part of the history of the Circle is that Michael Delfino bought it some time in the 1960s, and as of 2015, the 95-year-old was still the owner. That year was when he added a second screen to the Circle, which still packs them in every weekend.
What went before is a little sketchy from the very beginning. Milford Now reported in 2014 that the Circle was built in 1945, which matches what the Circle web site’s history page says. Also in 2014, Happenings magazine said the drive-in had been around “for 65 years” which would put the opening date at 1949, but that it broke ground in 1945. Cinema Treasures also puts the opener in 1949. Why would an erected drive-in sit idle for over three years? That’s a story, but it’s one I don’t know.
What I do know is that the Circle’s first appearance in the fairly reliable Theatre Catalog series was its 1949-50 edition. It was said to be owned by “Albert Frangel,” who I suspect to really be Albert Frengel only because that was a much more common surname in eastern Pennsylvania.
The 1952-59 editions of the Motion Picture Almanac listed the owner as E. Hollander of the Allied Circuit or just the circuit. In the early 1960s, it switched to the “Milgrim (sic) Bkg. Serv.”, actually Philadelphia’s Milgram Booking Service which was associated with Nathan Milgram Services, owner of over a dozen PA drive-ins.
Next up was Delfino, but when exactly? Milford Now said he bought it in 1964. The Times-Tribune of Scranton said it was 1963. WNEP, Moosic’s News Leader, reported it was “the early 1960s.” The Paper Shop blog said it was 1969. Happenings wrote that he had been there “for 61 of the theater’s 65 years,” implying that he worked there before buying the Circle. All I can tell for sure was that it was before the MPA’s 1978 edition, which listed Delfino as the owner.
And that’s when the uncertainty ended. From all accounts, Delfino has had a great time running the Circle. “When you love what you’re doing, you’ll never work a day in your life. I’ve never worked a day in my life at the theater,” he told Happenings. He guided the switch the digital projection in 2012, enlarging the screen at the time.
In 2015, the Circle added a second screen. “I’m a firm believer in perpetuity and that’s forever and everything here is going to last forever. It’s going to be here permanently and that’s why we are doing that,” he told WNEP.
On this night, the occasion was the drive-in’s annual Circle of Screams, “America’s only haunted drive-in theatre.” As part of the package, it was showing two public domain classics, The Horror and Night of the Living Dead.
The video of the day is that WNEP report on the new screen in 2015. Enjoy!
Miles Today / Total: 84 / 34215 (rounded to the nearest mile)
Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: The Terror / 185
Nearby Restaurant: It’s just a little out of the way, but I had to see the life-sized pirate ship in front of Cooper’s Seafood House in Scranton. It’s been around about as long as the Circle (1948), and the walls are covered with dioramas, photos, and quirky decorations. And there’s food! And a bar with plenty of beers! I had the broiled seafood platter and a pint of Shipyard Pumpkinhead. It was a great way to get ready for the drive-in.
Where I Virtually Stayed: The best bargain among Dickson City’s hotels is probably the Microtel Inn. I got the standardization of a chain hotel at a mom and pop price. There were cookies and coffee to welcome me, my two queens room had all the modern amenities, and the continental breakfast included hard boiled eggs, waffles and fruit. I was ready for another week on the road.
Only in Dickson City: Over in nearby Scranton is the Steamtown National Historic Site, a railroad museum to top them all. There’s an active restoration shop for the steam locomotives and a working roundhouse. Scranton also had the first electric streetcar, and the Electric City Trolley Museum is right next door.
Next stop: Unadilla Drive-In, Unadilla NY.