Nov. 21: Stateline Drive-in, Elizabethton TN

It’s Day 325 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Driving through the forests of North Carolina, it took a little over two hours to go from the Sunset Drive In Theatre just west of Shelby NC to the Stateline Drive-in in Elizabethton TN near the northeast tip of the state.

I first want to address that name. The marquee is written as StateLine, and TripAdvisor (among many others) calls it the two-word State Line. But the drive-in’s About Us page and its Facebook page both call it Stateline, so that’s what I’m going with.

Now that one minor mystery is mostly resolved, there’s another one. Everyone seems to agree that the Stateline opened in 1947, but I’m not sure who owned it then. The slow-to-change Motion Picture Almanac listed “R. D. Dunn” as the owner in its 1952-66 editions. Thanks to an Elizabethton Star article (PDF), we’ve got a history from 1952 forward. “Earl Bolling, who owned it from 1952 until the 1970s, and again from 1980 to 1995.” Did this Dunn own the drive-in before Bolling?

On the other hand, the MPA said the owner between the Bolling eras was R. Glover, probably Ray Glover, who was in some other theater transactions of the period.

The Star wrote that Andrew “Andy” Wetzel purchased the theater from Bolling or his estate after he passed away. I also saw a mention online that Wetsel is married to the daughter of Bolling’s widow, and that’s how he acquired the Stateline. However it happened, Wetzel was the owner in 2000 and is still there this year.

He caught a serious break in 2013 during Honda’s Project Drive-In contest. It had announced that it would award five free digital projectors but later decided to add a second round of four more. The Stateline was one of the four winners in that second and final round.

“I realized then that this was going to be probably my only chance to stay open,” Wetzel told Film Journal International. “We don’t have the kind of operating costs to be able to take on that kind of [digital] upgrade… If we didn’t do something with Project Drive-In, we were going to have to end up closing the door.”

The embedded YouTube video of the day is from the last film that the Stateline showed, a free performance of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 as part of the celebration of the Honda award.

When the Stateline opened this spring, Wetzel was quoted in another Elizabethton Star article. “The new projector really brought us out of the dark age,” he said. “We were running the same projectors that were original to the theater in 1947. They were great pieces of equipment, but they were mechanical. The new stuff is all computer based. It’s given us the opportunity to different things like show DVDs, computer, anything with an output.”

Of course, the Stateline isn’t showing anything now; it’s closed for the season. It’s just another dark night in November for me.

Miles Today / Total: 104 / 37171 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 194

Nearby Restaurant: I had to eat at Jiggy Ray’s Downtown Pizzeria after reading that it had bid on the classic Bonnie Kate indoor theater here. (It lost out to the City of Elizabethton.) It’s a great old, casual place for some home-cooked pizza and a surprisingly good salad bar. I enjoyed The Dalai Lama, which was one with everything, of course.

Where I Virtually Stayed: The best place to stay in Elizabethton, and definitely the closest to the Stateline, might be the Americourt Hotel. My room was quite inexpensive, but it had a mini-fridge and solid wifi. Breakfast had sausage and eggs and well as the continental regulars. I’m glad this was here.

Only in Elizabethton: Less than 10 miles north “out in the middle of absolute nowhere” is Backyard Terrors Dinosaur Park. As described by Roadside America, Chris Kastner built an array of life-size (though not all adult) dinosaurs in his backyard. The self-guided tour ends with an animatronic velociraptor display, and donations are voluntary.

Next stop: Starlight Drive-In Theatre, Atlanta GA.

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