Lebanese immigrant Hanna Joseph was in his mid-30s when he embarked on what would become a career in real estate by building the Robin Hood Drive-in, a car-hop restaurant just west of Leicester in the early 1960s. Soon Joseph expanded to a second project on adjoining land, the Leicester Drive-In Theater, which opened with a single screen in 1967.
The Leicester stayed in the family from that point on. According to HistoricAerials.com, it added its second screen in the southeast corner of the main viewing area around 1996. The third screen required clearing a chunk of forest to the south for an additional viewing area; that was ready to go around 2002.
When the Leicester converted to digital projection for the start of the 2015 season, it only converted Screen One. The other two continue to use 35mm film when available. Over the past couple of years, many weekends have only seen one or two screens in operation, but the final show of the 2017 season included Dunkirk, Wonder Woman, Transformers: The Last Knight, and Baywatch on the film-only screens. I didn’t think there were that many 2017 movies still on film.
Meanwhile, the Robin Hood restaurant, which had closed decades earlier and had lived many different lives over the years, was being restored as Joe’s Drive-In, after the owner’s nickname. Sadly, Hanna passed away just a few weeks before it reopened. Daughter Maria Joseph handles both drive-ins now, and she told the Worcester Telegram, “Next year I’ll see if I can get enough help to manage the restaurant year ’round.” It ended its opening engagement a week ago Sunday.
And that brings me to my visit, with the theater and the restaurant both closed for the season. Here’s hoping that the Leicester can keep going for another 50 years.
The video of the day, from the Leicester’s Facebook page, is barely 10 seconds long. But where else can you watch the breeze at a tree-lined drive-in?
Miles Today / Total: 141 / 32390 (rounded to the nearest mile)
Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 174
Nearby Restaurant: Since I couldn’t eat at Joe’s, I went over to Annie’s. Hot Dog Annie’s, that is. Hot Dog Annie’s has been around since 1949 serving up wieners with their special barbecue sauce. And the price is right!
Where I Virtually Stayed: The closest hotels to the drive-in are in Worcester. Since there’s a Hampton Inn there, I was definitely okay with that. There were fresh-baked cookies when I arrived, my room had all the modern amenities, and the breakfast was standard Hampton, and a very good standard that is.
Only in Leicester: Directly across Highway 9 from the drive-in is Milestone 56 of the Upper Post Road. It’s one of the milestones erected in 1767 by Paul Dudley marking what was originally called the Pequot Path and had been in use by Native Americans long before Europeans arrived. The colonists first used this trail to deliver the mail using post riders. The first ride to lay out the Upper Post Road started in 1673.
Next stop: Northfield Drive-In Theatre, Hinsdale NH.