Enjoy Sarasota FL’s drive-in history

Old photo of Trail Drive-In Theatre screen

Photo from the Sarasota Department of Historical Resources, via the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Jeff Lahurd gave us all a present in the Sunday edition of the Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune. Lahurd outlined what might be the full history of the five drive-in theaters in Sarasota and the three in nearby Bradenton.

Although the article often veers into explanations for those poor souls who have never experienced a drive-in, it contains a lot of great information. For example, the Trail Drive-In “served fried shrimp and chicken dinners, pizza and sandwiches, while the Siesta had a cafeteria styled restaurant and a snack bar ‘to keep you wonderfully refreshed.’”

Hugh Thomas, owner of the Trail and the Siesta, prided himself on keeping his theaters modern, clean, and inviting to families. He claimed that each of his projectors cost $14,000 and were “precision-made, like watches”.

According to Lahurd, the Bee Ridge was the last drive-in to open in Sarasota, in 1969. “To maintain the comfort factor, the theater offered individual (air conditioning) units, with the added benefit that it kept the mosquitoes out — mostly,” he wrote. I wonder how car-unit air conditioners worked.

One thing that Lahurd didn’t mention is that Sarasota residents can still visit the four-screen Fun Lan Drive-In about an hour’s drive away in Tampa. Anyway, I hope you’ve figured out by now that to experience all this fun nostalgia and a few nice photos, you really ought to go read it!

One-car crash damages Transit marquee

Wrecked marquee of the Transit Drive-InSee what happens when you book Gremlins! According to a very brief story in The Buffalo (NY) News, a car drove into a utility pole next to the marquee for the Transit Drive-In in nearby South Lockport, burst into flames and severely damaged the marquee. The News said that no one was injured and the cause is being investigated.

The Transit’s Facebook page has a lot more information on the event, including several before and after photos. The scene after the accident, which I borrowed for this post, looked dire. (The full-size photo looks even better; you ought to see the original on that Facebook page.)

The Transit’s posts reflect the optimistic, can-do spirit that is the hallmark of successful drive-in owners. The first post after hearing about the accident ended with, “Oh well, we’ve been wanting to update that old sign for a long time, anyway.” After arriving on the scene and taking that great photo, a second post said the marquee would probably need to be replaced. Then last night, a new post with a partially restored marquee announced “It’s just a flesh wound!” Looks pretty good!

The Transit’s most recent Facebook post at this writing includes a vintage color photo and reads, “This is one of my favorite pictures of the sun setting behind the original 1952 marquee, taken in August of 2007. The red entrance sign was also demolished, as the vehicle went over that first, before crashing into the utility pole and our marquee.” That’s a lot more coverage than The Buffalo News gave us. For a better look at some great photos, you really should check out the Transit’s Facebook page!

Apache closes down with one last party

GlobeDoNotEnterThis was expected for months, but it’s still sad. The Apache Drive-In, (Globe AZ) which had survived so many drive-in downturns, could not survive the shift to digital projection. It held its going-away party last weekend, as documented by public radio station KJZZ.

You can also see a video report from KSAZ, Phoenix’s news leader, about the Apache’s final celebration, but KSAZ uses Worldnow video, which I can’t embed here.

Stina Sieg of KJZZ provided a magnificent time capsule of the evening’s event, including a slideshow, a link to the audio report, and a well-edited transcript of that report, which mentioned an ironic touch. “Tonight’s movie was supposed to be that Charles Grodin/Robert De Niro flick, ‘Midnight Run,’” Sieg said. “It was partially filmed in Globe. However, 35 millimeter prints of it simply don’t exist anymore.”

Now the lights are out for good. Today that Do Not Enter photo I took in April of the Apache’s one-way exit applies to the entrance as well.

Update: On the Friday before that last party, NPR also ran a story and interview about the closing of the Apache. You can listen to it or read its transcript here.

New drive-in coming to New Braunfels TX

SS_FacebookThere’s a great story in Texas that’s getting even better. Ryan Smith and his family built the Stars & Stripes Drive-In Theatre (Lubbock) in 2003, and now they’re going to build the second Stars & Stripes in New Braunfels, a fun town between Austin and San Antonio on I-35.

According to its press release, “Stars & Stripes Drive-In Theatre will show digital first-run double-features nightly and be open year-round. Two of the screen towers will measure over 90 feet wide and be the largest movie screens in Texas. Located on 30 acres close to the intersection of FM 1101 and Kroesche Lane, about one mile from Freiheit Country Store and 9-pin bowling club, it will be the only drive-in theatre within a 150-mile radius of New Braunfels.” I think the Blue Starlite in Austin would dispute that last claim.

The Herald-Zeitung (what a great name!) of New Braunfels ran a great, lengthy story Sunday about the announcement and a general walk through the memories of drive-ins past. New Braunfels was once home to the Tower, a 250-car theater that opened in 1950. The Tower’s chunk of land was later converted to a Kroger grocery store, then refurbished with local economic development money into the headquarters of The Scooter Store, which filed for bankruptcy after an FBI raid this year. But I digress.

From the description of the new Stars & Stripes site, it’ll be less than a mile from I-35 at the Kohlenberg Road exit northeast of New Braunfels. “It’s a beautiful and convenient location, plus you can see the stars out there,” said Smith. The press release continued, “Families and friends will enjoy watching bright digital projection from inside the comfort of their own car or outside in lawn chairs. Because the drive-in theatre has always been more than just a movie going experience, Stars & Stripes will serve Rockin’ Eats from their 50’s Cafe, and guests can enjoy the patio and playground areas.” Sounds like fun!

Drive-in author tells USA Today his top ten

Mesa Drive-In marquee with photo creditAt one level, I look at USA Today’s story, posted late last night, as pure link bait. Any top ten list is designed to pull in visitors from all over just because its title is intriguing and its slide show is eye candy. On the other hand, they used my photo! So now I can change that line on my resume to “Award-winning photographer featured in USA Today.”

Where was I? Oh yes, the article. Well-known drive-in historian Don Sanders gave USA Today’s Larry Bleiberg his top ten favorite drive-in theaters. I don’t know if they were the top ten active drive-ins, or whether it just happens that Sanders’ favorites all happen to still be alive. There are notes and photos for each, so you really should go read it! But here is a quick summary:

Pleasant Valley Drive-In may close for good

Pleasant Valley Drive-In at nightHere’s the kind of story we’re going to see a lot over the next few weeks. The Pleasant Valley Drive-In, Pleasant Valley CT, having failed to attract enough votes to win a projector through Project Drive-In, now faces an uncertain future, as reported by WVIT, New Britain’s news leader.

“I’ve got six months to try and raise the money and get new projectors in here,” said owner Donna McGrane. “So hopefully we can get some fundraisers going and make it happen.”

WVIT had the good idea of checking with Pleasant Valley’s elected officials to see whether they could do anything to help save the town’s landmark theater. But it sounds like Pleasant Valley, the town, is as hard up for cash as Pleasant Valley the drive-in.

There was another good report about four Iowa drive-ins in roughly the same boat presented by KLJB, the Quad Cities’ news leader. But that embeddable video is hosted by Worldnow, which uses some kind of JavaScript that this blog can’t digest well. To watch part of that clip (meaning the leftmost portion of the entire video), visit my Worldnow example page.

Update: Well that’s ironic. In a post where I complain about Worldnow’s odd incompatibility with Carload, the other video I embedded decided to quit working. You can still see it if you click the screen capture I’ve replaced it with at the top of this post or if you click here.

Meet the final (?) four winners of Project Drive-In

Today, Honda announced four more winners of its Project Drive-In contest to award digital projection systems. The latest lucky drive-ins include:

Ocala Drive-In, Ocala FL, the only Florida entrant in the contest.

Starlite Drive-In, Cadet MO, which somehow escaped our seemingly exhaustive four-part list of news stories about the candidates.

Monetta Drive-In, Monetta SC, The Big MO.

StateLine Drive-In, Elizabethton TN, sorry that I misspelled StateLine as two words during the project round-up.

So far Honda hasn’t taken my forwarded suggestion to finance the 140+ other drive-ins that still need digital equipment, but it is extending its fundraiser through the end of 2013. I think that local fundraisers stand a lot better chance of success than this national effort, but what do I know?

Here’s one more way to help. Honda has donated a 2014 Odyssey Touring Elite as an incentive on the Project Drive-In fundraising page. (You’ll need to scroll way down to the bottom of the page to see it.) If you make a $50,000 donation, you get the brand new Odyssey minivan, and you get the warm feeling of knowing that you help fund an additional digital projector to save another drive-in from closing. Plus you get your name in Honda’s next drive-in video. If you were planning on buying one of these anyway, why not do it here?

Project Drive-In roundup 4: The list that wouldn’t die

In the third installment of our roundup of candidates for Honda’s Project Drive-In, I predicted that Honda would choose more than five lucky recipients of digital projectors. What I really didn’t anticipate was that Honda would reopen voting for the second set of winners.

With another round of voting comes another round of candidates that we haven’t mentioned so far, along with some (marked with an asterisk) who saw new stories about them after voting was extended. If you’re reading this, you’re already online, so go vote for your favorite!

* This drive-in was in a previous roundup, but a new story has been published about it after Honda extended voting for Project Drive-In.

A brilliant suggestion to Honda: Finance the losers

Project Drive-In logoAs we continue our long, extended Drive-In Project journey, we will pause to thank Honda for its generous support in supplying nine digital projectors to struggling drive-in theaters. And then we will pass along a great suggestion posted yesterday evening.

The Johnson City TN Press ran an article about the State Line Drive-In of nearby Elizabethton and its reaction to Honda’s voting extension giving the State Line another chance. One Gabe Curde, possibly a Johnson City real estate agent, left a superb suggestion as a comment to that story: “Why doesn’t Honda offer 0% financing on these projectors to any half way qualified drive-in owners who don’t win a contest?”

That’s simply brilliant. Consider the stories about the Apache (Globe AZ), making it more famous on its deathbed than it ever was in life. Owner Bobby Hollis told a Cronkite News Service reporter, “Nobody is gonna loan me the money to convert to digital. Trust me, I’ve looked.” Honda has the resources to offer Hollis and any other drive-in owner some really good financing on projectors. And it would even help publicize Honda’s financing arm for wavering new-car buyers. C’mon, Honda, how about it?

Drive-In survival: A tale of two Starlites

Here’s a depressing story about the Starlite Drive-In (Mitchell SD) which we’ve discussed previously. According to the Argus Leader and the theater’s web site, the Starlite will close “forever” after the last show this Saturday, September 21. You know, it takes optimism and an overwhelming dedication to survival to invest in digital projection equipment for a seasonal business with modest profits. I don’t think this Starlite’s owner wanted to take on that huge debt just to keep it alive. That’s his business, and he’s not alone, but it’s still darned sad to us drive-in fans.

It was so sad that I just had to find something else for balance. Let’s shift our gaze to a different Starlite Drive-In, almost due east from Mitchell to Grand Bend, Lambton Shores, where that little Ontario peninsula reaches down from the rest of Canada. The Starlite Drive-In there is excited about reopening next May with new digital equipment. The Sarnia Observer tells us that owner Allan Barnes will stay open through October using the old film projectors. “I’m pretty much the last hold out on film, which probably annoyed the customers a couple of nights ago when the film broke,” he said.

Barnes told the Observer that he didn’t think customers would notice the difference next year, but I disagree. From my experience, digital projection has noticeably brighter colors and sharper details, especially in the corners. I’ll bet that Barnes will discover this for himself next spring. But according to the Observer, “He even plans on keeping his old projection equipment so he can keep showing the drive-in’s collection of film shorts and cartoons that he jokes, ‘we abuse, or entertain, our customers with every night.’” That’s a great reason for keeping the old equipment around even while doing what needs to be done to keep a decades-old institution alive.