Oct. 27: Mahoning Drive-In Theater, Lehighton PA

It’s Day 300 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Thanks to a chunk of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, it took only an hour to drive from the Garden Drive In, up the road from tiny Hunlock Creek to the Mahoning Drive-In Theater a few miles west of Lehighton.

I’ll start with the happy ending. Owner Jeff Mattox with volunteers Virgil Cardamone and Matthew McClanahan run 35mm film on a projector to keep the Mahoning alive. By positioning the drive-in as a retro alternative, they’ve won over a loyal following. This cool, clear night was the start of the final weekend of the season, showing the first four installments of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise.

I started with conclusion because the Mahoning has seen enough drama for a half-dozen articles, but I’ll try to hit the high points. First, despite what its web site used to say, the Mahoning opened in 1949, not a year earlier. In its March 26, 1949 issue Billboard magazine said that Max Korr “in association with Mitchell Rappeport and others” was just then building the drive-in.

The reference books for 1952 listed the owner as the A. M. Ellis Theatres Co. The (Allentown PA) Morning Call wrote on May 23, 1952 that Mitchell Rapaport had sued the drive-in and A. M. Ellis Theatres Co. Separately, the drive-in had sued Ellis Theatres for interfering with operations. It was a complicated, long story of loans, intertwined businesses, and hiring Max M. Korr Enterprises two weeks earlier to buy and book films.

I’m not sure how that resolved, but I’d guess it had something to do with an auction notice for the drive-in (725 car capacity), its lease, equipment, and name in the Oct. 4 Philadelphia Inquirer. Five days later, The Morning Call wrote it was sold at auction by the Ellis Theater Company to Dr. Joseph J. Humphries and R. C. H. Becker Sr., although Billboard later reported it was sold to Max Korr and associates.

Despite the sale, the Motion Picture Almanacs (often slow to notice change) continued to list Ellis Theatres as the owner through the 1961 edition. The owner for at least the 1963-66 editions was Claude Reinhard, who had founded Palmerton TV Signal Corporation, an early cable TV company.

The Morning Call wrote on Aug 23, 1992 that Amos Theaters Inc. (owned by Joseph Farruggio) had owned the Mahoning since 1981. Its manager was described as “an employee of the Palmerton Telephone Company”. An airport was built adjacent to the drive-in in the mid-1960s, and that was frustrating Farruggio’s desire to add three more screens.

On Aug. 22, 1997 The Morning Call wrote about Farruggio preparing to show adult movies and trying not to run afoul of the Carbon County DA. “He’s shown no movies this year, but now says he’ll play the explicit films two weeks to maintain the drive-in’s 49 years of continuous operation, then close again.” Farruggio said he needed the proceeds to pay overdue taxes. (He eventually backed down and showed Mimic and Copland instead.)

In 1998, the Mahoning opened for only a few weeks because health permits “require the facility to be open at least one night a year.” Farruggio said the drive-in was celebrating its 50th season, which some misheard as 50th anniversary, and that might be the source of the confusion about when it opened.

The next owners I could find were Mike and Deb Danchak; check out WHYY‘s 2013 interview with them and Farruggio, including photos. Also in 2013, as the digital conversion loomed, the drive-in had a misadventure starring a guy who said he fixed up drive-ins but never told me which ones. My story and that guy’s comment can be found here. And it was briefly called the Big Pocono Outdoor Theater that year, and Honda’s Project Drive-In shot some of its footage there.

The Morning Call called Jeff Mattox “a new owner” on October 23, 2014, and that brings us to where we started. My favorite version of the story about the neat way the Mahoning works these days is at Cinepunx, though Freakin’ Awesome‘s take is also pretty good. You can also check out video of this year’s opener at WFMZ, Allentown’s News Leader.

I remember when some drive-in owners said there was no way they could show retro 35mm movies all season. I’m really glad that these guys were able to prove them wrong.

Miles Today / Total: 55 / 34026 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: A Nightmare on Elm Street / 183

Nearby Restaurant: The Red Castle Brewery in Lehighton had me at brewery. The sweet and spicy Asian butterfly shrimp were a nice straddle between fine dining and bar food, and the chicken corn chowder was just great comfort food. Top it with a nicely flavored wheat beer, and it’s a memorable visit.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Once again, the top-rated hotel in town according to Trip Advisor is another Hampton Inn. No one has to twist my arm to visit another nice hotel with dependable, if predictable, amenities. There were cookies at check-in, a clean, comfortable room, and the very good standard breakfast. No surprises, no problems.

Only in Lehighton: According to Roadside America, Stinson the (trademarked) Dinosaur is a skeletal T-rex, nine feet high and 15 feet long, and the brain-beast of Joe Bradley. Stinson is painted bright red (the official color of stroke awareness) and 30-inch versions are available for sale, each cut on a plasma table owned by a stroke victim. Reports are that he sways if you step on his metal feet.

Next stop: Warwick Drive-In Theatre, Warwick NY.