It’s Day 352 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. After all the tiny trips I’d been taking last week in northeast Ohio, the hour and a half I drove this day seemed longer than it should have. But that’s what it took to get from the Elm Road Triple Drive-In Theatre on the northeast side of Warren OH to the Moonlite Drive-In Theatre just west of Brookville PA.
The early history of the Moonlite comes in glimpses, like walking past a picket fence. The drive-in opened on July 2, 1952, owned and operated by J. E. Hollobaugh, as it was spelled by the Brookville Jeffersonian Democrat at the time. The Theatre Catalog listed the owner as O. A. Holobough.
In April 1955, the newspaper said that strong winds or lightning (?) knocked over the screen for “the second time in less than a month”. The concrete screen supports had just been repaired from the first collapse. “The Moon-Lite (sic) Drive-In will begin showings tomorrow night with a temporary screen, but plans are to erect an entire new structure of three walls to provide additional supports.”
Some time in the 1970s, ownership changed to R. Neff, according to the Motion Picture Almanacs of the day. The kinds of movies the Moonlite was showing in the 1970s (Swedish Fly Girls was one of the tamer examples) led the local Brookville American weekly newspaper to stop carrying its ads in 1977.
At some point, probably in the 1980s, the Moonlite died. It fell off the MPA list by the 1986 edition.
The happier, later history of the Moonlite began in 1996 with Jim Lipuma, who we met earlier this month because of his efforts in reopening Vandergrift PA’s Riverside, then called the Galaxy. After that worked well, Lipuma bought the old Moonlite, according to ExploreClarion.com, “after the flood in 1996″. It’s unclear whether that devastating flash flood of July 19 just marked the date or made the old drive-in a better purchase. At any rate, Lipuma reopened on May 2, 1997.
Lipuma had been sweating out the conversion to digital projection, but that arrived in November 2015. In addition to the actual equipment, the work included improving the projection room to prevent dust, and that included new doors. “The old door was here when I bought the theater,” he told the Jeffersonian Democrat. “I got 20 years out of it so I guess it paid for itself.”
This year, he told the Jeffersonian Democrat how the conversion almost didn’t happen. After avoiding donations, Lipuma “had tried to set money aside to prepare for the switch, he didn’t anticipate it happening so soon. As the deadline approached, they were coming up short.” At the last minute, he got a loan from an anonymous “little angel” so he could order the equipment.
The Moonlite closed for the season in November. I’m glad it found everything it needs to open again in the spring.
The embedded video of the day is The Man Behind the Screen, a wonderful short shot in 2015 by Jack Tumen all about the Moonlite and especially Lipuma. Enjoy!
Miles Today / Total: 99 / 39265 (rounded to the nearest mile)
Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 200
Nearby Restaurant: It had been much too long since I’d eaten at a buffet, which is why the sign for Plyler’s Buffet & Family Restaurant brought me right in. Plenty of salad to stay healthy, then meatloaf, chicken, and other indulgences to keep me full on a chilly day. And the pies for dessert were homemade; I could really taste the difference.
Where I Virtually Stayed: When the best place to stay in town is a Super 8, that’s usually either a reflection on the other choices (if any) or how great this location is. In this case, it was some of both. The price was great, the typically spartan room actually had all the modern amenities, and the location, adjacent to a McDonald’s, meant that the continental breakfast served as a gateway to more substantial fare next door.
Only in Brookville: Scripture Rocks Heritage Park is a tranquil setting showcasing and commemorating the works of Douglas Stahlman, who was declared insane a couple of times. In between, he carved biblical and other messages into over 100 rocks while living in a nearby cabin. After a century of wear, those carvings have faded, but the Jefferson County History Center has all their information available.
Next stop: Super 322 Drive-In Theatre, Woodland PA.