Nov. 3: Delsea Drive-In, Vineland NJ

It’s Day 307 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It’s Friday, so Halloween’s behind us, meaning no more special spooky showings anywhere. I really needed to find drive-ins that were still showing movies in November, and that meant a four-hour drive south from Coxsackie NY to the Delsea Drive-In in Vineland NJ.

According to Cinema Treasures, the Delsea was a single-screen, 700-car drive-in operated by the Budco chain when it opened on April 29, 1949. Budco was later bought by American Multi Cinema, which abruptly closed it in July 1987. It sat quietly for over 15 years as the rest of the drive-ins in New Jersey, the birthplace of the drive-in movie, also closed.

In 2003 a local pediatrician, Dr. John DeLeonardis, bought the property to build a skate park to keep his patients active. Then he saw the 100-foot screen was still in pretty good shape, so he started down the path of restoring the drive-in. The Delsea reopened in July 2004 with the same projectionist who was there on its last night in 1987.

DeLeonardis added a second screen in 2008. In 2011, he installed a bank of solar panels, making the Delsea the first solar-powered drive-in. (Of course, that’s not literally true; the panels generate into the grid during the day, and the Delsea uses electricity at night, but the net usage is pretty close to self-sufficiency.) wrote in 2011 that DeLeonardis’ wife Jude, can be found weekend nights working the snack bar, where she put edamame, stir-fry asparagus, wraps and other healthy choices on the menu.

The Delsea is the home theater for the Drive-In Film Festival, a non-profit organization that brings new, family-friendly independent films to drive-in theaters free of charge to promote filmmaking and drive-ins. They’ve got a great video about themselves and the Delsea on YouTube, although the embedded video of the day is a different one focusing more specifically on DeLeonardis and the results of his work.

On a wonderfully, unseasonably warm evening around 70 degrees, I was treated to the latest blockbuster entry in the Thor series, which made a great drive-in movie. It was nice to watch in the state where the industry was invented.

Miles Today / Total: 242 / 34685 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Thor: Ragnarok / 186

Nearby Restaurant: When I don’t want to think about dinner, I’ll often pick pizza, so I went over to the Taste of Italy Pizzeria in Vineland. The place was all right inside, but I just wanted something to take back to my room for some quiet munching time. The chicken parmigiana pizza was the perfect compromise between something familiar and something uniquely Vineland.

Where I Virtually Stayed: After my longest drive in weeks, I just wanted something dependable, which to me is another name for Hampton Inn. The one in Vineland had high ceilings in its breakfast area, which gives us a much airier feel, and there’s a nice indoor pool and hot tub. Meanwhile, the usual amenities were there in my room and the usual solid breakfast was waiting in the morning. Ready for another drive!

Only in Vineland: For decades, the most famous place in Vineland was the Palace of Depression, an eighteen-spired, pastel-colored castle in a swamp, built in 1932 out of rusted auto parts and mud. According to a nice summary on Roadside America, George Daynor built the palace to show that the Great Depression was beatable. Daynor said he was guided to the site by an angel, and that he ate frogs, fish, rabbits and squirrels during the three years it took to build.

Next stop: Bengies Drive-In Theatre, Middle River MD.