Dec. 3: Silver Drive In, Johnstown PA

It’s Day 337 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. I continued my tour of western Pennsylvania, driving a little more than an hour from the Evergreen Drive-In Theater in Mount Pleasant to the Silver Drive In in Johnstown.

The Silver opened in 1950. At least, that’s what a mural at the Silver says, and I can’t find any reason not to believe it. A note in the July 8, 1950 issue of Billboard magazine said that “Maurice Fruhlinger, for many years manager of the Met Theater, Baltimore, … will manage the soon-to-be opened Silver Drive-In”. The 1952 Theatre Catalog listed it in nearby Windber, owned by Maurice Fruhlinger and Louis Hanna. It stayed with the Hanna Theatre Service through the early 1970s when County Amusement acquired it. And that’s most of what I could find of the Silver’s early years.

The modern story of the Silver begins when Rick Rosko reopened the drive-in in 2005, according to a story in The Tribune-Democrat of Johnstown. (Drive-Ins.com says that it closed in 2003.) In 2008, the drive-in survived when Richland Township supervisors rejected a zoning change for a commercial development. Continental Properties of Menomonee Falls WI had wanted to put up a strip mall there.

In 2013, the Silver joined dozens of other drive-ins in trying to land a free digital projector from Honda’s Project: Drive-In. Rosko told The Tribune-Democrat that the buzz about rallying to save the Silver had improved the drive-in’s visibility. “I’m tickled to see that. It’s increased business, too. We’re seeing more people at night than we had been earlier this summer,” he said. “At the end of the day, when the dust settles, it’s going to be a real positive for us no matter what.”

Sure enough, the Silver didn’t win a projector but Rosko was able to fund the digital conversion internally in April 2014.

In 2015, Rosko grappled with Richland Township again in trying to start a flea market on the Silver’s grounds. He worked out a deal where vendors would all need separate licenses if they sold their goods “on consignment” with the Silver collecting all the receipts to turn in to the township the next day. “When you’re only doing something once a week – and its outdoors – its hard to have people to sign up in advance,” Rosko told The Tribune-Democrat.

The Silver’s Facebook page had been neglected for four years, but I’m happy to say that it made a fresh post in October 2017 to say See You In The Spring. Even though the drive-in was dark this night, it was nice to know that it’ll be back soon enough.

The embedded YouTube video of the day is another dreamy vignette by Stuffthats Gone. I wish I knew how they got the poles to wobble like that.

Miles Today / Total: 56 / 38715 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 199

Nearby Restaurant: I found yet another regional restaurant chain I hadn’t tried. Hoss’s Steak & Sea House has some great choices for entrees, but what I really needed was a trip to its great soup and salad bar. Fortunately, it came with my ribeye steak, filling my belly with all the nutrition and roughage I’d need for days.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Looking around the hotel choices in Johnstown, I balanced cost against the benefits of each … who am I kidding? I went to the Hampton Inn. There were plenty of cookies and coffee available at check-in. My comfortable room had all the modern amenities. And breakfast was the Hampton standard with plenty of hot protein choices to keep me going on increasingly cool mornings.

Only in Johnstown: Over in Windber, home of the the Silver’s founding manager, there’s a graveyard of old trolley cars. According to The Vintage News, they were collected by Ed Metka, a retired civil engineer with a passion for streetcars, who worked for the Army Corps of Engineers and who once fixed them. From the photos, many of them are in really bad shape, but the 2016 article said that Metka has been in talks with a number of East Coast cities that have started to revisit the idea of streetcars.

Next stop: The Bar-Ann Drive-In, Portage PA.

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