Dec. 1: Comet Drive In, Connellsville PA

It’s Day 335 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. One more month to go! Once again, this day’s drive was really short, less than a half hour from the Brownsville Drive-In, just south of Grindstone PA to the Comet Drive In in Connellsville PA.

The Comet opened in June 1950. It was named by 19-year-old Anna Marie Fasson, who won a contest sponsored by the Morrell Amusement Company. From there, the ownership picture stays fuzzy for quite some time. For the 1950s, the reference books of the day used names such as the Hanna Theater Service, the Moore Theater Service, and Ted Laskey. That’s about all I know about that.

A July 1967 newspaper article announcing extensive renovations said the Comet was (only recently?) part of the Manos Theatre chain. Then on July 28, 1971 it held a “grand opening tonight to celebrate its new, bright look.” At that point, it had a panoramic screen and a new marquee.

From that point, most of what I know about the Comet comes from a magnificent, lengthy article from the Sept. 9, 1994 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which I found on Newspapers.com. The drive-in “was still making a small profit when it closed in 1986”. Its Sunday flea market continued even as it stayed dark at night. Then in the fall of 1993, Carmikes Cinema bought the Manos chain, and it didn’t want the Comet.

Enter Brian Erwin, Manos’ director of operations. He asked president and co-owner Ted Manos how much it would cost to buy the Comet. When Manos gave him a figure, Erwin said he’d buy it. “He just looked at me,” Erwin recalled, laughing. “I know what he thought: ‘I’ve been paying you too much money!’ ”

Erwin’s goal was to maintain the Comet as a drive-in. “I knew [the land] was worth more … but anybody else who would have bought the place would have bulldozed it.” The box-office sign advertising $3.50 for admission was a holdover. “People ask me why I haven’t raised prices,” Erwin said, “and I tell them, because there was a sign in the box office.”

At the time of that article, Erwin had switched from AM to FM sound and was pondering a second screen, which he followed through on the next season. Since then, he’s kept the Comet going, converting to digital projection in 2014.

Even though it’s a Friday night, on this first night of December, the drive-in had been closed for the season for several weeks. It’s nice to know that it’ll be back next spring.

Miles Today / Total: 18 / 38648 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 199

Nearby Restaurant: My favorite place for the rare Friday night dinner with no movies to watch is probably a sports bar with pizza and wings, a place such as Bud Murphy’s. The huge, well-dressed nacho plates I saw there made me wish I had friends in town to share one with. I settled on a combination of the two major flavors at this establishment as a Buffalo chicken pizza. And with that I needed enough beer to cool my mouth. I was thankful that my hotel was within walking distance across the river.

Where I Virtually Stayed: If you want to stay in Connellsville, you’ll want to stay at the Cobblestone Hotel and Suites, which might be the only hotel in town. The place, which still looks new, sits on the bank of the Youghiogheny River. My room had the full set of modern amenities, and breakfast had several hot options as well as the standard continentals. For the only place in town, it’s pretty nice.

Only in Connellsville: According to Wikipedia, Connellsville sat in the center of the Connellsville Coalfield, so coal mining and coke production were major sources of employment and revenue during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Connellsville became known at the “Coke Capital of the World” due to the amount and quality of coke produced in the city’s many beehive ovens. During this time, Connellsville had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the United States.

Next stop: Evergreen Drive-In Theater, Mount Pleasant PA.

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