It’s Day 313 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It took less than an hour and a half to drive from the Pipestem Drive-In north of Speedway WV across the Allegheny Mountains to the Park Place Drive In in Marion VA.
According to Virginia.org, this was the location of the old Park Drive-In, which the web site says was open 1954-1983. A photo on Historic Aerials verifies that it was there, although the screen was much closer to Park Boulevard back then.
My reference books don’t provide much help. The 1955-56 Theatre Catalog listed the Park owned by William MacKenzie Jr., with a capacity of 200 cars. The International Motion Picture Almanacs for 1955-66 listed the owner as W. Mackenzie, eventually adding the capacity of 200. The Park continued to be listed through 1976, then fell off the IMPA lists and did not return.
I wish I could find more about what prompted Jerry Harmon to rebuild the drive-in as part of an entertainment complex on the site, opening in May 2000. That must have been a great story. Film Snobbery described the place in 2011 as “a complete entertainment complex. There are batting cages featuring fast and slow pitch softball and three speeds of baseball. In 2006, a brand new miniature golf course was built. There is an arcade with an assortment of games, pool tables, and air hockey. Possibly the best addition is the ice cream shop”.
In 2013, Harmon told Virginia Living that the conversion to digital projection was on drive-in owners’ minds. “I think there’s some that will go out of business, and I’m currently trying to save myself,” he said.
The conversion went through at the Park Place, which showed a Jimmy Buffett concert the following summer. On that occasion, Harmon told the Bristol Herald Courier, “The drive-in community is rallying behind this concert – just as it has with the digital conversion efforts of recent years.”
I particularly like the way the viewing field is laid out at the Park Place, as seen in the YouTube video of the day. There are no speaker poles; instead each row has marked parking spaces. And each row is a paved terrace with sloping grass medians in between. Very nice!
Alas, the drive-in closed for the season in mid-October. It’s another dark night for me.
Miles Today / Total: 75 / 35271 (rounded to the nearest mile)
Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 188
Nearby Restaurant: Since I was already at the hotel (see below), I went to its great restaurant, The Speakeasy, for dinner. It serves a lot of hamburgers and beer, but is also capable of a more substantial meal. I enjoyed the rib eye steak dinner with a baked potato and broccoli with enough beer to wash it down and then some. After all, I wasn’t going to drive anywhere when I left.
Where I Virtually Stayed: After the sameness of chain hotels, it was a nice change to stay at the General Francis Marion Hotel, one of National Geographic’s Top 150 hotels in North America. Like the Park Place, it was an older establishment that was thorough refurbished and reopened recently, in this case 2006. The price was very reasonable for such a historic place. My room was comfortable and the wifi was solid, although I went without a fridge. In the morning, a free continental breakfast had me ready for another day’s drive.
Only in Marion: Harry Chapin’s 1973 single WOLD was only a minor hit, peaking at #36 on the Billboard chart. When I brushed against the radio business a few years later, I was told that the song, about an aging, hard-drinking radio disc jockey on the phone with his ex-wife, hit too close to home to get much airplay. So I was very surprised that WOLD-FM is alive and well in Marion. The station predated the song by five years.
Next stop: Eden Drive-In, Eden NC.