Dec. 6: Palace Gardens Drive In Theater, Indiana PA

It’s Day 340 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Once again my drive took just a little over a half hour, from the Carrolltown Hi-Way Drive In just north of Carrolltown PA to the Palace Gardens Drive In Theater in Indiana PA.

The Palace Gardens opened on June 22, 1950. According to a 1984 article in the Indiana Gazette, Helen Kerzan conceptualized and named the drive-in, then her husband John, a structural steel welder, built the screen and speaker stands. Their children worked there from the beginning, and daughter Dorothy Kerzan managed the Palace Gardens from 1980 through the 1994 season.

For a couple of years in the mid-1950s, the Palace Gardens and some other theaters in the region ran into trouble when a prosecutor decided to begin enforcing an old state “Blue Law” against showing movies on Sundays unless local voters opted in. White Township voters finally passed that exemption in November 1957.

In March 1995, Dorothy Kerzan announced that the drive-in would not open that year after being “plagued by health problems” according to a contemporary account in the Gazette. “It’s sad after 45 years,” said Helen Kerzan, who was 87 and still lived next door, “but there comes a time when the years have piled up and you’re not able to go.”

Dorothy’s daughter Clarine Beatty, described at the time as “graduating from Penn State and getting married”, returned to Indiana, assumed ownership and reopened the Palace Gardens. As of 2016, she was still the owner. In 2010, she told the Gazette, “There was a guy who walked in here (the concession stand) last weekend and he said, ‘Wow, this looks exactly the same as how I remembered it.’ I said, ‘That’s because it is,’ It hasn’t changed. It’s pretty much identical. The last remodeling was done in the ’70s.”

Beatty’s husband, Mike Hudzick, was the projector and general maintenance guy. “It was Clarine’s goal to carry it on, so that’s how I got ‘suckered’ into this 15 years ago,” he said. “I’m just happy she wanted to continue it, because we enjoy it. It’s fun to see the smiling kids’ faces.”

Those kids were sad for awhile in 2016 when the Palace Gardens delayed its season opener until its owners could “find a digital projection option that works for us.” Just before Memorial Day, Beatty located one that had been used in a theater in England. After plenty of work to prepare the projection room, the drive-in reopened by early August.

The drive-in had closed for the season after Labor Day weekend this year. I’m glad it will be back in the spring.

Miles Today / Total: 29 / 38783 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 199

Nearby Restaurant: One of the relatively neglected cuisine on my odyssey has been the deli, which is why I had lunch at the 9th Street Deli just a couple of doors down from the Jimmy Stewart Museum (see below). Sometimes all I really need on a sunny, cold day is a hot cup of French onion soup and a loaded submarine sandwich.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Just to prove that I’m not a slave to Hampton Inn, I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn instead. Just like a Hampton, there were cookies and coffee waiting at check-in at the HGI. Just like a Hampton, my clean, comfortable room had all the modern amenities. But the HGI’s breakfast buffet is a notch above Hampton’s yet just as free for Hilton Gold members like me. Woohoo!

Only in Indiana (PA): Indiana, the Pennsylvania borough, was were noted actor Jimmy Stewart was born and raised. According to Roadside America, Indiana honored him with a life-size statue on his 75th birthday, but when Stewart dedicated it, the bronze statue wasn’t ready. They substituted a statue made of fiberglass, and when the bronze was ready, the early statue was moved to the Jimmy Stewart Museum.

Next stop: Riverside Drive In Theatre, Vandergrift PA.

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