It’s Day 216 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. I went from Dayton OH back over to Indiana one last time to catch a drive-in that’s only open on Fridays and Saturdays, the Bel-Air Drive-In Theatre, just west of Versailles IN. The drive took less than two hours.
Russell Kelley opened the Bel Air in 1952 and he and his family ran it for over 30 years. Russell passed away in 1987; records suggest that his drive-in had gone dormant a year or two earlier.
The Bel Air reopened in the summer of 1995, according to a later article in Cincinnati Magazine. That article attributed the drive-in’s new success to booking first-run movies. “Places like the Starlite (Amelia OH) and Bel-Air remain viable not because they’re alternatives to indoor theaters but because in their communities they are the theaters,” the magazine wrote. “The Bel-Air is the only first-run drive-in in southeastern Indiana, and some customers come an hour’s drive.”
In 2014, the Versailles Republican published a lengthy article about the Bel Air as it showed off its new digital projector. It noted that Janet Kelley Chorpenning, Russell’s daughter, had run the drive-in for “many years” before she passed away in July 2013. Now her son Allen Chorpenning had taken over. “While his mother looked at it as a hobby, he sees it as an investment, and wants to put any proceeds into updating the property and equipment,” the Republican wrote, noting the many improvements in addition to the new projector. “I think the popularity of the drive-in is coming back,” Chorpenning said.
Just last week, the Indianapolis Star included the Bel Air in a round-up of active Indiana drive-ins. It wrote, “make sure to try something — French fries, nachos or hot dogs — slathered in Coney sauce. The recipe for the seasoned meat sauce comes from Chorpenning’s wife’s family.”
The Coney sauce was a bright spot as, for the fourth time, I watched The Emoji Movie. BuzzFeed wrote, “The Emoji Movie isn’t merely bad because there’s hardly a plot or because the animation looks like a ripoff of Inside Out. … It’s bad because it’s trying so hard to cater to adults first and kids second, while accomplishing neither.” So it’s not just me.
Miles Today / Total: 99 / 26530 (rounded to the nearest mile)
Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: The Emoji Movie / 131
Nearby Restaurant: Ernie’s Pizza looks like a little hole in the wall, like an extended house, and it’s a locals favorite. Sure, there were sandwiches available, but what you order at a pizza place is pizza, especially when it tastes like the pizza here.
Where I Virtually Stayed: If you want to stay in Versailles, you’ll be staying at the Moon-Lite Motel. Not only does it have a gorgeous retro neon sign, this dear little mom and pop place has all the modern amenities. (And it was right next to Ernie’s Pizza.) The bed was comfy, and the great price left me plenty of cash to search out breakfast in the morning.
Only in Versailles: Versailles is the home to Paulhenge, a circle of concrete slabs with holes strategically cut to indicate solstices and equinoxes. Local artist Paul Morris designed the structure, hence the name.
Next stop: South Drive-in Theater, Columbus OH.