Dec. 28: Sky-Vu Drive-In Theatre, Gratz PA

It’s Day 362 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. On an even colder, partly sunny day, my virtual odometer rolled over 40,000 during the hour and a half it took to drive from the historic Shankweiler’s Drive-In Theatre in Orefield PA to the Sky-Vu Drive-In Theatre in Gratz PA.

Norman Gasbarro’s Lykens Valley blog has a great history of the Sky-Vu. “In 1949, the land on which the theatre now stands, was sold by Allen Lincoln Shade and Etta May [Hartman] Shade to Eston C. Artz and Stanford E. Carl. Eston and Stanford established a partnership to create the Sky-Vu Drive-In Theatre in 1950.” The 1949-50 Theatre Catalog listed it as under construction.

The first newspaper reference I could find was its first ad in the Elizabethville Echo on July 13, 1950. It doesn’t quite say so, but it appears to be a grand opening ad: “SKY VU Drive-In Theatre welcomes you to one of America’s most unique outside theatres.” The ad described the Sky Vu’s benefits in copy that wasn’t repeated in the ads that followed. The Echo was a weekly, so the Grand Opening might have been a few days earlier, but some time in July 1950 looks pretty solid.

Contemporary theater reference books listed the Sky Vu’s capacity at around 230 cars. The 1951-59 International Motion Picture Almanacs said it was owned by G. Wolfe, and the 1961-66 editions said the owner was E. Hotz. I can’t find anything else about either of those people.

When ownership information resumed after a decade off, the IMPA’s 1978 edition listed “Trautman” as the owner. That matches another section of the Lykens Valley blog’s story. Around 1969, Marvin Troutman, son of Marvin and Ada Troutman, bought the Sky-Vu and the nearby Halifax Drive-In. “Shortly afterward,” he and his wife Doris formed Martro Theatres, Inc. According to the blog, they began running X-rated movies at both drive-ins, although the Sky-Vu’s newspaper listings from May 1975 had family fare.

At some point, the Sky-Vu must have closed, because the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association wrote that it reopened in 1994. Several reports all say that the Sky Vu closed (again) in the summer of 2014.  A commenter at Cinema Treasures suggested that Carmike Cinemas’ purchase of Digiplex that May led to the closure. But Digiplex was founded in 2010, so someone else must have been running the drive-in before then.

Tim Neal told the Pottsville Republican Herald that Marvin Troutman still owned the place in 2016, as Neal announced that he and his wife Renate had begun a three-year lease to reopen the drive-in. Troutman’s daughter, Gina Troutman DiSanto, also included a digital projector with the lease.

“We’re very fortunate she was willing to take on the risk and we’ve been so blessed to have people helping us out along the way,” Neal said. “This has been a turn-key operation.” From what I can tell, everything’s been going fine ever since.

The embedded video of the day is from WHTM, Harrisburg’s News Leader. It does a fine job of showing what the place is like, and I’m really happy that it recognized the public-minded soul who donated a great-looking pinball machine to the concession stand.

The Sky-Vu closed its season on at the end of October. I’m glad that its latest lease on life is still rolling along.

Miles Today / Total: 75 / 40034 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 200

Nearby Restaurant: If you want to eat in Gratz, you’ll want to eat at Kissinger’s Family Restaurant. I stuck with the Pennsylvania Dutch food for its German roots. Kissinger’s knows how to make a real Bavarian pretzel, and I followed that with a veal schnitzel served with spaetzle. Add some cheesecake with peanut butter icing for dessert, and I was full for the rest of the day.

Where I Virtually Stayed: There simply aren’t any hotels anywhere around the Sky-Vu. Google suggested that the closest are 23 miles away in Pine Grove, so that’s where I went. To save $50 over the Hampton Inn price, I stayed at the Comfort Inn there. My older room had a full set of modern amenities, and breakfast included the Comfort Inn waffle machine to go along with the continental standards. It all worked.

Only in Gratz: Gratz is the birthplace of Carl Scheib, a major-league baseball pitcher with a most unusual career. When he debuted with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1943 at the age of 16, he was the youngest person ever to ever in the majors, but he didn’t win a game until 1947. Scheib’s hitting was so good and his pitching so lackluster that, according to Baseball Reference, he was much more valuable at the plate than on the mound. Last year, Lawrence Knorr released a new biography of Scheib, still the youngest player in American League history.

Next stop: Midway Drive-In Theater, Mifflintown PA.