Nov. 30: Brownsville Drive-In, Grindstone PA

Brownsville Drive-In marquee with scary clown

Photo from the Brownsville Drive-In Facebook page

It’s Day 334 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. After a long drive the day before, it was refreshing to need just a half hour to get from the Skyview Drive-In in Carmichaels PA to the Brownsville Drive-In, just south of Grindstone PA.

This drive-in owned as Ficks in April 1949, the brainchild of Isadore J. “Izzy” Ficks. Ficks Drive-In Theatre, Inc. incorporated in 1950, and a year later the company deeded 9½ acres with buildings to Izzy and someone named Margaret B. A. Moody. In March 1954, Ficks announced he had bought out “the Moody interests” in the Ficks Drive-In.

Remember Louis Stuler and Duard (or Durwood or Durward) Coe, who founded the Skyview in Carmichaels? They bought the Ficks and renamed it the Brownsville before the 1959 season.

According to TribLive, John “Preach” Sebeck and his brother, Tom Clark Jr., bought the Brownsville in 1972 after working at the drive-in in high school. (The article says they bought it from Ficks himself, but we know that’s not accurate.) “Clark and Sebeck tried to keep everything the same when they took over the drive-in and only restored the things that really needed it.”

At some point in the 1980s, the Brownsville became a twin. The 1993 photo of the drive-in at HistoricAerials.com shows two screens, and its 1969 photo shows that the main screen used to be northwest of the concession stand before moving to the west side. Soon after that 1993 photo, the Brownsville added a third screen.

In 2007, the Route 40 Classic Diner was transported in four separate parts from Mattoon IL to the front of the Brownsville. The diner and drive-in are both managed by Charlie Perkins.

In 2014, the Brownsville caught a bit of a break. Honda’s Project Drive-In had given away digital projectors to nine drive-ins the year before, and it had some leftover cash in its Indiegogo account. As the 10th highest-voted drive-in, the Brownsville received that amount plus a donation from vAuto towards a new projector.

On this last night of November, 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: 16 / 38630 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 199

Nearby Restaurant: Of course I had to eat at the Route 40 Classic Diner on the drive-in grounds. They’ve got the decor just right, with the black and white tiled floor, the neon jukebox in the corner, and metal-trimmed tables. I ordered a late breakfast with hotcakes and plenty of coffee, listened to the music, and imagined I was back when the Ficks was showing movies.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Google said the closest hotel to the Brownsville is the Hampton Inn & Suites California University – Pittsburgh in Coal Center. That’s a mouthful! I didn’t even know there was a California University of Pennsylvania. Anyway, the Hampton was the typical high quality, with cookies and coffee at check-in, a room with the modern amenities, and the Hampton quality breakfast in the morning.

Only in Grindstone: Grindstone is an unincorporated area, so let’s turn our attention to Brownsville, the nearby borough. According to Wikipedia, Brownsville attracted major entertainers in the early postwar years, who also were performing in nearby Pittsburgh. Mike Evans wrote in his book Ray Charles: The Birth of Soul (2007) that the singer developed his hit “What’d I Say” as part of an after-show jam in Brownsville in December 1958.

Next stop: Comet Drive In, Connellsville PA.

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