Oct. 16: Finger Lakes Drive-In, Auburn NY

It’s Day 289 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. The scenery was more farmland than forest as I drove for an hour from the Midway Drive-In Theatre, just south of Minetto, to the Finger Lakes Drive-In, a few miles west of Auburn NY.

The Finger Lakes may be the oldest continuously operating drive-in in New York. Its first newspaper ad was for July 15, 1947, and its grand opening was apparently later that month. My reference books all say that Don Wilson was the owner back then, perhaps with Anthony DeNiro. It opened without in-car speakers, according to the magazine Life In The Finger Lakes. “The Finger Lakes Drive-In once had high volume speakers, but the sound reportedly bothered cows in the area.”

By 1978, the owner name in the reference books lists had changed to Fields, which must have been Paul Field, the guy that NewYorkDriveIns.com says built the Finger Lakes. Field also owned Auburn’s other drive-in, the East, and famously operated a circus train there to entertain kids in the 1970s.

The Ithaca Journal of Aug 25, 1971, mentions a charity fundraiser at the “Feocco Finger Lakes Drive-In”, which complicates this ownership history. The Aug 2, 1992 Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester said Frank Feocco bought the business in 1986. He was 80 years old while running the Finger Lakes in that 1992 story, so he was easily old enough to be involved with the place in 1971. Feocco’s 1996 obituary said that he owned and operated the Finger Lakes for 12 years.

The next owner we read about is in that magazine article, published in summer 2002. It said that this was Kevin Mullin’s seventh season, having purchased the Finger Lakes from Feocco’s widow in 1997. “Today the Finger Lakes Drive-In still has speakers on poles which are kept in good working order by 16-year old Brett Mullin, Kevin and Cindy’s oldest son who admits he loves spending summers at the drive-in.” Mullin was still owner when NewYorkDriveIns last updated its listing in 2009.

At some point, Paul Meyer bought the Finger Lakes and helped bring it into the 21st century. After a modest fundraiser, he leased a digital projector in July 2014, telling the Auburn Citizen, “That (donated money) got us through this season. It’s appreciated and touching.” Before the 2016 season, he expanded the screen to almost twice its previous size, now 106 feet by 50 feet raised 25 feet off the ground. And the Finger Lakes now uses FM radio sound.

The embedded YouTube video of the day has some nice drone shots, and I also like the low-level look across the ticket booth toward the screen.

The drive-in ended its 2017 season at the end of September, leaving me without a movie on a rainy, cold October night.

Miles Today / Total: 43 / 33202 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 180

Nearby Restaurant: It’s a diner and a Greek place, and Pavlos’ Restaurant is just a great place for a late breakfast. All you can eat pancakes, plus some bacon and eggs and potatoes and all the coffee you can drink – what a deal! I can drink a lot of coffee.

Where I Virtually Stayed: I felt a little guilty passing up some nice-looking smaller local hotels, but there was the Hilton Garden Inn in Auburn, and I just couldn’t resist. There was lemon water are cookies waiting at check-in. My room had the full set of modern amenities including a Keurig coffee maker. A very nice breakfast was free for me as a Hilton Gold member. Yes, there are reasons I like this place.

Only in Auburn: As recounted by Living On Earth, hundreds of thousands of crows invade Auburn every winter. No one knows exactly why the birds come here, but the scene they create – and the mess – has residents divided over whether to embrace the crows or drive them out. Many of the crows congregate around Fort Hill Cemetery, so some folks believe it’s an omen.

Next stop: Silver Lake Twin Drive In Theatre, Perry NY.