Oct. 19: Delevan Twin Drive In, Delevan NY

It’s Day 292 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. An hour’s worth of twisty state highways brought me from Portville NY to the Delevan Twin Drive In in Delevan NY of course.

A contemporary article in the Arcade (NY) Herald, hosted by NewYorkDriveIns.com, said that Opening Day for the Delevan was Sept. 24, 1959. It was built by Elgin Boylan and had 400 speakers for 400 cars. HistoricAerials.com shows it under construction(!) earlier in 1959 and in operation in 1961.

I sometimes turn to my shelf of old International Motion Picture Almanacs for clues within their annual drive-in lists. The IMPA is far from perfect, but the Delevan is a particular example of how wrong it can be; it wasn’t listed in the 1961 edition, and the 1963-66 editions showed it with a capacity of 365 cars, owned by “Al Boylain”.

The 1978 IMPA changed the owner to “Mendola, G.P.” (NYDI says that was Gasper “Pat” Mendola) and corrected the capacity to 400, and that’s how it stayed through its final list in 1988. But the IMPA listings were often on autopilot in the 1980s, with any real-world changes going unnoticed.

NYDI says the Delevan was later operated by Macy Cohen and Phil Leiffer, then later yet by Ron and Mary Sahr. A 1992 Springville Journal article referred to it as Sahr’s Delevan Drive-In Theater.

Don Loomis and his wife Josie bought the drive-in in 2000. The drive-in’s web site used to say that he added the second screen in 2005; aerial photos show it was there in 2006 but not in 2002, so that’s probably accurate. Loomis had converted one screen to digital projection, but when Josie was diagnosed with cancer, they made the decision to sell. “We planned to do this the rest of our lives,” Don told The Buffalo News in October 2014. “We didn’t buy it just to sell it. But it looks like it’s time to pull the plug.”

Dr. Michael DiBella, an emergency room physician, bought the drive-in in the 2014-2015 off-season after Loomis listed it on eBay. “I’ve always wanted to own a drive-in,” he told The Buffalo News in April 2015. “It’s a piece of old-fashioned Americana, and I wanted to preserve part of that.” DiBella changed the name to the Delevan Twin Drive In. (For some reason, his name is spelled Mickel on the drive-in’s web site, but it’s Michael everywhere else including all references to his day job in Buffalo.)

The Delevan is closed for the season now, though its Facebook page says it might reopen for the latest Star Wars movie in December.

I was so desperate for a video that I embedded a January 2017 report from WKBW, Buffalo’s News Leader, that should have been a non-story. During the 2016 season, DiBella wanted to accept credit cards but couldn’t get a landline installed, so he used an old-fashioned imprinting machine to make credit card charge slips. (Am I the only one old enough to remember back when that was the usual way charges were handled?) He kept the slips but forgot to phone them in. When he got around to it after Christmas, it freaked out nervous cardholders, but as the report shows, DiBella bent over backwards to make it right for every patron.

Miles Today / Total: 38 / 33385 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 180

Nearby Restaurant: Just north of the drive-in is Chanderson’s Steak & Seafood, a great place for dinner. There are few things tastier and more satisfying than a well-prepared ribeye steak, and this came with a full soup and salad bar to help me believe that I was eating healthy. Add a glass of merlot, and it’s a perfectly rounded meal.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Google said the closest hotel to the Delevan Twin is the Chaffee Lodge just a few miles north. This is one of those Mom and Pop motels where they’ve done some serious renovations. My quiet room had the full set of modern amenities. The great price left plenty of cash in my pocket for breakfast down the street at the Strawberry Fields Cafe.

Only in Delevan: The World Series begins next week, so we’ll turn to arguably the most famous person ever born in tiny Delevan, Frank Isbell. He was a full-time first baseman with the American League pennant-winning Chicago White Sox in 1901, then moved to second base where he was had the highest batting average on the 1906 World Series champs. If you’re really into baseball, you may recognize how rare it is for a player to shift to a more difficult position on the defensive spectrum, but I guess it worked for Isbell.

Next stop: Vintage Drive In Theatre, Avon NY.