Nov. 29: Skyview Drive-In, Carmichaels PA

It’s Day 333 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Having finished my sweep of the drive-ins of the southern US, it was time to return to Pennsylvania to start the final survey of mostly closed-for-the-season theaters. It took over 5½ hours to drive from the Twin City Drive-in in Bristol TN through the full height of West Virginia to the Skyview Drive-In just a bit north of the border in Carmichaels PA.

The origins of the Skyview, and even its early spelling, aren’t perfectly clear. To start, every anecdotal reference I’ve found, including the drive-in’s official Facebook page, says that it opened in 1946. They’re all wrong – it was 1948. The 1948-49 Theatre Catalog listed the Carmichaels Drive-In as under construction at that point. A later newspaper clipping mentioned a lawsuit against the drive-in’s owners which alleged “when the theater was opened in 1948, reddog and earth was heaped up near the headwaters of a brook” and so forth.

Was it really called the Carmichaels? If so, not for long. The 1949-50 Catalog listed it as Carmichaels, and Pittsburgh radio station WESA‘s list said it was “Formerly The Carmichael’s Drive-In”. Yet its first advertisements in the newspapers of nearby Uniontown in summer 1950 were as the “Sky View”.

And then there’s the spelling issue. Its vintage sign shows it as the Sky View in all caps and a small gap between words, exactly like those first newspaper ads. By the 1960s, those ads were for the Sky-View, with a hyphen. Today its official Facebook page calls it the SkyView, one word, two capital letters. But the logo and the self-description on its web site has it Skyview, one word, one capital, so that’s how I use it.

From all accounts, Louis Stuler and Duard (or Durwood) Coe owned the drive-in from the time it opened. Stuler passed away from a heart attack at the age of 47 in 1961. Coe continued to own the Skyview for a while after that.

By 1978, the Cinemette Corporation of America had taken over the Skyview, and by 1984 it was owned by G & G Theaters, Inc. Then it all gets fuzzy for a while. The Southwest Pennsylvania Rural Exploration blog says that the Skyview’s “second screen and additions to the original screen (to facilitate wide-screen format) were added in 1986.”

Elizabeth Walker started working at the Skyview in 1999, and her husband Charles became manager in 2001. Together they bought the drive-in in 2007 and still own it today.

In 2011, the Walkers told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that they run the Skyview for the same reasons that patrons come. “The way I see it, you’re not going for the movie when you’re going to the drive-in,” Charles said. “You’re going for that fancy little word: nostalgia. It’s a piece of the past. It’s romantic.”

The Almanac of Pittsburgh wrote in August 2013 that the Walkers pooled their retirement savings and received money from two donors to buy used digital projectors. “We decided we would do everything we could to ensure it didn’t go down on our watch,” Charles said. This year, one of those projectors went bad, but they bought a replacement and kept on going.

The embedded YouTube video of the day has a dreamlike quality to it as shapes bend and wobble with the movement of the camera. I don’t know whether that’s intentional, but it’s kind of fun.

Miles Today / Total: 346 / 38614 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 199

Nearby Restaurant: The Hungarian Smokehouse in Carmichaels only offers its food to go, but it was worth stopping there to pick up dinner anyway. The special of the day was wings, cooked with a special smokehouse sauce. (I could have ordered Billy’s hell, but it sounded and smelled too frightening.) I added a side of baked beans and fries, and I was ready to bring my feast back to my hotel room for a relaxing dinner alone.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Surprisingly, Google doesn’t show any hotels very close to the Skyview, so I had to travel 11 miles west to Waynesville. There’s a Hampton Inn there, so that’s very good news. I had to drive through a shopping center parking lot to get there, but it had cookies and coffee waiting at check-in, a comfortable room with a king bed and all the modern amenities, and the great Hampton breakfast in the morning. When I drove back out past the Wendy’s, I wasn’t tempted to stop.

Only in Carmichaels: The Skyview is almost certainly the only drive-in theater across the street from a courthouse. Mind you, the building that holds the Magisterial District Judge of the Eastern District of Greene County looks more like a strip mall than a capitol. I’ll bet the judge’s decisions are just as binding as they’d be in a more ostentatious setting.

Next stop: Brownsville Drive-In, Grindstone PA.