Dec. 22: Laurel Drive-in, Hazleton PA

It’s Day 356 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. On a chilly, overcast day, I was glad it took less than an hour to drive from the Point Drive-In between Northumberland and Mechanicsville PA to the Laurel Drive-in in Hazleton PA.

The Laurel was built on the site of the Mount Laurel Race Track, and was so good it opened twice. Its associated miniature golf course and restaurant opened in early June 1950, then the drive-in’s first movie was on Saturday, June 24, 1950. However, the Laurel’s official grand opening was Friday, July 14. The Plain Speaker of Hazleton wrote that the “500-car” drive-in was owned by Charles V. O’Donnell and Anthony D. Sacco. It offered RCA in-car speakers and “an all-metal screen over 60 feet high.”

The Hazleton Standard-Sentinel wrote, “Sacco and O’Donnell began the Laurel Acres project three years ago.” The concession stand was “equipped with a large screen view window, speakers, a 100-foot snack bar, and rest rooms.”

There were more newspaper clippings about the Laurel over the next couple of decades. In July 1956, owners O’Donnell and Sacco announced a new sound system, extra speakers, and free mini-golf for drive-in patrons. In October 1959, O’Donnell and Sacco, “trading as Laurel Drive-In Theater” were in court about a theater in Tamaqua. A windstorm blew the roof off the concession stand and damaged the screen on Sept. 10, 1968, and about 50 speaker posts “were torn from the ground”. Sacco and O’Donnell were mentioned as joint owners then too.

The odd thing is that O’Donnell’s name is missing from everything but those contemporary newspaper accounts. The 1952 Theatre Catalog said the Laurel was owned by just Anthony Sacco, and the 1951-88 Motion Picture Almanacs all listed only a single Sacco as the owner. A March 2016 article in The Times-Tribune includes an otherwise good summary: “The Laurel Drive-In is a family-owned business owned by (manager) Steve Sacco’s father, Frank Sacco. Steve Sacco’s grandfather, the late Anthony Sacco, started the drive-in in 1950.” The MPAs changed the owner’s initial from A to F by 1980, so that could be about when Frank took over.

(For a really weird one, check out this 2014 Standard-Speaker photo caption. It said that today’s Frank’s founding father was “Frank ‘Chic’ Sacco”. A 1952 article in The Plain Speaker mentioned a “Chic” Sacco who chaired a church committee, but his real first name was John. Was that the same Chic? Why would anyone mistake him for Anthony? But I digress.)

In recent years, the Laurel has had trouble converting to digital projection. Based on its Facebook posts this year, for 2017 it opened in mid-May and closed in mid-September. As far as I can tell, except for two classic horror weekends, the film-only Laurel showed only three movies all season – Baywatch, Wonder Woman, and Transformers: The Last Knight. In my opinion, they ought to call the folks who run the Mahoning about finding interesting 35mm films to show in the absence of a digital projector.

A post on that Facebook page says, “We look forward to seeing you again next year.” I really hope they can find a way to keep this great family-owned community treasure going for another few decades.

The embedded YouTube video of the day is an aerial view of the Laurel. I’ve seen plenty of drone videos this year, but I can’t recall seeing another that gets quite that high.

Miles Today / Total: 52 / 39488 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 200

Nearby Restaurant: They told me that one of the best places in Hazleton for lunch is Jimmy’s Quick Lunch, one of the few restaurants in town that predate the Laurel. As Mod Betty at Retro Roadmap points out, it’s got a very cool vintage neon sign after dark, and it’s home of the Jimmy Dog, a weiner topped with chili and mustard and onion cubes. Great stuff!

Where I Virtually Stayed: Once again I stayed strong and bypassed a Hampton Inn to save money and prove I could do it. Instead I stayed at a Red Roof Inn for less than half the price. Apparently it used to be a Best Western, but it’s pretty nice right now. My clean room had all the modern amenities, and the continental breakfast was enough to fortify me to look for a real meal, with more than enough cash left in my pocket for any restaurant in town.

Only in Hazleton: Just north of Hazleton there’s a large lump of coal to commemorate the Lattimer Miners Massacre. On September 10, 1897, about 300 to 400 unarmed strikers marched to a coal mine at the town of Lattimer to support a newly formed union. The sheriff and 150 armed deputies opened fire on the crowd, killing 19 and wounding dozens more, almost all of them shot in the back.

Next stop: Fair Oaks Drive-In Theatre, Middletown NY.