Nov. 19: Raleigh Road Outdoor Theatre (Part 2), Henderson NC

It’s Day 323 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. This day marked what I hope will be a singular oddity this year – I’m returning to a drive-in because its digital projector was on the fritz on my first visit. Which is why I drove 3½ hours from Hound’s Drive-In in Kings Mountain NC back to the Raleigh Road Outdoor Theatre in Henderson NC.

If you’ll recall, the Raleigh Road opened as the Moon-Glo in 1949 and changed its name after it was bought in 1977 by N.T. “Tinker” Lyles. (I now notice the Warren Record says the name change was at the insistence of the former owner, Sonny Stevenson.) When we last left our story, Mark and Jennifer Frank had purchased the drive-in in late 2011 from Megan and Jim Kopp, who we’ve since met again as the current owner of the Family Drive-In.

The Fayetteville Observer wrote in 2015 that the Franks had owned and operated the Keysville Drive-In in Keysville VA, which reopened for a few years beginning in 2009, but sold it to focus on the Raleigh Road. “I just got this cockamamie idea I was going to resurrect a drive-in movie theater,” he said of entering the outdoor business.

The Raleigh Road’s 80×60 foot screen is made of roofing materials, and the concessions building, now including a digital projector as well as the kitchen, looks much as it did in 1949. “I call it a bunker,” Mark said with a laugh.

The Observer also noted that the Raleigh Road’s capacity is 265 cars, are there have nights where they’ve had to turn away cars 45 minutes before showtime. “Most Fridays or Saturdays,” Mark said, “you better get there early or you might not get in.”

IndyWeek ran a story in 2014 in advance of the drive-in’s conversion to digital projection. “We’ve done some of the work already,” Mark said. “We had to redo the electrical; the building is from 1949. We’re basically going from a 1957 Chevy, very simple to work on, to the world’s biggest iPad.”

For a really nice story of what the drive-in is like these days, you should read the article / review written just two months ago by Kay Whatley at the Grey Area News. “Being outside under the sky, later all the stars, was cool as heck,” she wrote. There are also a half-dozen photos, so you really should go read it!

The embedded video of the day is from Vimeo, a short with the Franks when they were still using film. I like the way it shows off the “bunker” concession stand and other parts of the Raleigh Road. You might also want to check out the Facebook Live videos that the staff whipped up this season.

This was my third viewing of Justice League in four days. Thor: Ragnarok, which I’ve also seen three times, was better. Just sayin’.

Miles Today / Total: 221 / 37067 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Justice League / 194

Nearby Restaurant: It was time for another regional chain, Ribeyes Steakhouse. It delivered what the name promised, a fine ribeye steak, and it came with a baked potato and a very nice salad bar in a casual setting. I can see why other towns would want one of these.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Last time I was here, I chose a different hotel to save money. This visit, I ponied up for the Hampton Inn. There were all the great Hampton touches such as coffee and cookies waiting at check-in, my comfortable room had all the modern amenities, and the solid buffet included in the Hampton breakfast. It was a nice place to relax after a long drive.

Only in Henderson (again): Less than 20 minutes up the highway from Henderson is Soul City, a planned community first proposed in 1969 by Floyd McKissick, a civil rights leader and director of the Congress of Racial Equality. Soul City was to be a mixed-use town, with houses, factories, and stores in one convenient location, populated by people of all races. The city never came close to its lofty projections, and its only industrial building, Soultech 1, was purchased by the adjoining Warren County Correctional Institution for expansion.

Next stop: Sunset Drive In Theatre, Shelby NC.

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