It’s Day 348 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. On a cold, breezy mid-December day, it took less than an hour to drive from the Blue Sky Drive In Theater in Wadsworth OH to the Aut-O-Rama Twin Drive In in North Ridgeville OH.
The Aut-O-Rama’s history is a quiet one. It opened in 1965 (Cinema Treasures says July 2 that year) and has stayed in the same family ever since. “We actually opened this after the big wave of drive-in theaters in the 1950s,” current owner Deb Sherman told the Cleveland Scene earlier this year. “So ours looks a little different. We learned from the others what worked and what didn’t.”
One big innovation was the addition of a second screen in 1972, making the drive-in the Cleveland area’s first twin. “We were the first one in the area to do that,” she told The Morning Journal in 2013. “That enabled us to show a variety of movies and avoid being stuck with a dog of a movie.”
Back to that line of ownership – the recent newspaper stories about the Aut-O-Rama are short on first names. Deb Sherman’s husband passed away in 1993, and it was his father who started the drive-in, but what was his first name? The drive-in lists of the International Motion Picture Almanac tell me only that it started with G.
The Aut-O-Rama sits on a perfect triangle of land to help maintain its longevity. Active train tracks form its southern border, and the Ohio Turnpike passes to the northeast. Only one street leads to the entrance, and that’s a short distance from another interstate highway. That visibility and traffic helped it keep going through the lean 1980s. “That was a really rough decade for us and that’s when most of the drive-ins around here closed,” Deb said.
These days things are going great for the Aut-O-Rama. With the digital projectors it installed in 2013, it runs Retro Tuesday night showings of older movies. “I’m looking at ‘Easy Rider’ and a bunch of other films,” she said. “Maybe ‘Goonies,’ since people are always asking for us to show it again.”
The embedded YouTube video of the day is a superb profile of the Aut-O-Rama as it looked in 2015. It features Deb’s son Tim Sherman, and it’s got great shots of everything except the drive-in’s interesting marquee with comedy/tragedy masks. You can see a photo of that here.
The drive-in closed for the season in October, and I’m glad it’s in such great shape to return next spring.
Miles Today / Total: 39 / 39060 (rounded to the nearest mile)
Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 200
Nearby Restaurant: For some homestyle cooking not too far away, I stopped in at the Gourmé Family Restaurant just across the turnpike from the Aut-O-Rama. I had something I rarely get at home – beef barley soup, which I love but the wife despises for no good reason. I had it with pancakes on the side, because I also love breakfast all day. It was all great warmup food at a good price.
Where I Virtually Stayed: There was a Hampton Inn just five miles away in Elyria, so that’s where I went. I was going through withdrawal because of two many nights away from the reassuring, high-quality sameness that Hampton provides so well. There were cookies and coffee waiting at check-in. My room had the full set of modern amenities. Breakfast was the usual Hampton standard. Now I can try mom and pop motels again if I need to for a couple of days
Only in North Ridgeville: Just north of North Ridgeville is Avon OH, the self-proclaimed Duct Tape Capital of the World. (It’s where the Duck Tape brand of the stuff is made.) According to The Municipal, the town’s annual Heritage Duck Tape Festival include life-size duct tape sculptures; an arts and crafts tent; a fashion show; and the crowning of “Duck Tape Dad of the Year.” Plus the first 500 tourists each day receive a free roll of Duck Tape.
Next stop: Mayfield Road Drive-In Theatre, Chardon OH.