It’s Day 290 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Thanks to some interstate highways, it took me less than two hours to drive from the Finger Lakes Drive-In, just west of Auburn NY, to the Silver Lake Twin Drive In Theatre in Perry NY.
The Silver Lake opened as a single-screen drive-in on Sept. 23, 1949. Harry Martin and his wife Mary built the place and operated it until selling it to Jake Stefanon before the 1966 season.
According to a Rochester Democrat and Chronicle article, captured on the Silver Lake’s history page, Jake also opened a drive-in in 1949, in Altoona PA. (That drive-in, the appropriately named Altoona, actually opened in April 1948, so maybe he misremembered the year. But I digress.)
The article said that “while operating a string of outdoor theaters in Buffalo, Jake bought a decrepit drive-in near the eastern shore of Silver Lake that was nothing more that ‘cow pastures and posts.'” Martin was in his mid to late 60s by then, so maybe he was having trouble keeping it up. Anyway, Jake moved to Perry in 1970 “and devoted all his time to transforming the Silver Lake Drive-In into a family entertainment center.”
Why did Jake do all that transforming? “While I was with the Blatt Brothers (a Pittsburgh-based theater chain), we’d build a drive-in out in the country … and pretty soon, a hot dog stand would spring up, and a custard stand – capitalizing on our ability to draw people,” he said. “So I realized, if you draw people, you have to have something to sell to them.”
A hot dog stand outside the gates evolved into the full-service Charcoal Corral restaurant. Then came ice cream, pizza, an arcade, mini golf, and an outdoor bandstand.
That 1995 article said Jake’s son Rick was the one who made those plans work. “He’s the visionary … I get it built and make it go,” Rick said. It also said that Rick, then 45, had been working at his dad’s theaters since he was 14. The son eventually bought the drive-in from his dad in 1993. He also added a second screen before the 1998 season.
The Livingston County News ran an article when the Silver Lake reopened for the 2017 season with Rick showing off a brilliant idea. “Every night, we’ll go out and walk the lot to select a family that has children,” he explained. “We’ll ask them if they want to help us out and start the movie. That always gets a big, positive response. They come in and I give them a little bit of the general workings on how it all goes. Then we direct them to the computer where they take over the controls. They start the movie on the computer as they would at home. For helping out, they always get free popcorn and cotton candy for the entire family.” Wow, that sounds like a great way to get drive-in fans for life!
The emphasis that the proprietors place on the restaurants and fun extend to the title of their Facebook page and web site; both say Charcoal Corral and Silver Lake Twin Drive In. And it extends to their Facebook videos, almost all about the types of yummy food available. That’s why the embedded video of the day starts with the drive-in marquee and shifts to 10 minutes of a relaxing parade of tractors.
I just missed the Silver Lake’s final drive-in showing of the season the Sunday before Columbus Day, but at least the Charcoal Corral is open for the rest of October.
Miles Today / Total: 90 / 33292 (rounded to the nearest mile)
Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 180
Nearby Restaurant: Obviously, I had to eat dinner at the Charcoal Corral, although it would have been a good choice anyway. It was Southwest BBQ Night, and for me that meant a rack of tender baby back ribs with baked beans and a salad. A trip to the ice cream stand topped off the best way to visit here on a night without a movie.
Where I Virtually Stayed: If you’re going to stay in Perry, you’ll want to stay at the Park-Lake Motel. It’s another one of those clean, comfortable little places with great rates. My efficiency room had all the modern amenities, and there was coffee available in the common area. After a quiet night’s sleep, I was ready to go scout out breakfast at John & Sarah’s nearby.
Only in Perry: As Wikipedia puts it, four men who were out fishing on Silver Lake on July 13, 1855, swore that they encountered a 60-foot-long sea serpent with glowing red eyes. The resulting frenzy that came from this story created an immense boom for the nearby towns of Perry and Silver Lake. About 100 more people later claimed to have seen it. Two years later when the Walker Hotel in Silver Lake burned down, firemen discovered the remains of the legend: a large mass of canvas. Hotel owner A.B. Walker had built the monster to attract business.
Next stop: Portville Drive-In, Portville NY.