Nov. 26: Auto 25 Drive In, Greenwood SC

It’s Day 330 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Finishing my tour of South Carolina, I drove less than an hour from the Monetta Drive In Theatre in Monetta of course to the Auto 25 Drive In in Greenwood.

Cinema Treasures, which provides most of the history for the Auto 25, says it opened as the Auto in the 1940s. A current concession stand banner says it’s been showing movies since 1945, and some reference showed it open on April 21, 1946. The owners back then were A.T. Livingston and Olin Turner, and it had a capacity of 250 cars.

Pete Zouras leased the drive-in from the Turner family in 1954 and bought the theatre equipment a few years later from Livingston’s widow when her husband passed away. Zouras once said, “really our best years were the 1960’s and 1970’s. Those were the best years we had.”

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Zouras and fellow drive-in owner Mario Ackerman lobbied to change the interpretation of the South Carolina blue laws about screening movies on Sundays. After operating the Auto Theatre for 32 years, Zouras retired when the drive-in lease was up in October 1986, and the drive-in closed. Martin and Marsha Murray reopened it for about six weeks in mid-1999 then it was closed again.

South Carolina Living tells the story that “Greenwood residents Tommy and Carolyn McCutcheon were on their way to church one Sunday morning a few years ago when they noticed a huge, unsightly pile of trash in front of the shuttered drive-in movie theater they used to frequent when they were kids.” Tommy was so annoyed that he contacted the drive-in’s owner, Virginia Turner, then in her 90s, and said he would haul away the trash for her.

One thing led to another, and the McCutcheons bought the place from the Turner family and renamed it the 25 Drive-In Auto Theatre. It reopened in April 2009. The new owners added a second screen in 2011 and a third in 2016.

For most of the McCutcheon’s tenure, the drive-in has been open year-round, but they closed it for almost two months in early 2017. Winter storms and bad roads played a role in the decision, and Carolyn told the Greenwood Index-Journal, “since 2010, we’ve been open 52 weeks out of the year and it’s hard to visit people when you only have two days off.”

I’m sure glad it was open on this night, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I’ve now got over a month to find some special Christmas show at a northern drive-in to reach my goal of 200 movies in this drive-in odyssey.

Miles Today / Total: 42 / 37946 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Coco / 199

Nearby Restaurant: Locals recommended The Mill House, and I can see why. It’s a brewpub with several of its own beers on draft, and it cooks up brick-oven pizzas. I took advantage of their Sunday brunch to try some fried grits and a breakfast pizza with sausage, bacon and eggs. And a hefeweizen, of course.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Greenwood is a fairly sizeable county seat, large enough for several hotels including a Hampton Inn, and that’s almost always my first choice. It was all so pleasantly familiar – cookies and coffee waiting at check-in, a comfortable room containing all the modern amenities, and a very good breakfast with hot and cold choices. It’s not quirky, but I never go wrong with Hampton.

Only in Greenwood: Every year, Greenwood holds the South Carolina Festival of Flowers. It was first held in the summer of 1968 to coincide with the 100th anniversary celebration of George W. Park Seed Company. Since then it has grown to include a wide array of activities including tours, art displays, sporting events, concerts, and a kidfest.

Next stop: Central Drive-In Theatre, Norton VA.