Dec. 7: Riverside Drive In Theatre, Vandergrift PA

It’s Day 341 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. My drive got just a little longer but was only about 45 minutes from the Palace Gardens Drive In Theater in Indiana PA. Riverside Drive In Theatre in Vandergrift PA.

The Riverside, as promised, sits just across the highway from the Kiskiminetas River. It opened as the Woodland and was advertising by 1949. The 1952 Theatre Catalog listed it as Lee’s Woodland, owned by Harold Lee. In 1978, the drive-in closed.

In 1995, Jim Lipuma bought and refurbished the drive-in, renaming it the Galaxy. ”The drive-in has always been a love of mine,” he told The New York Times in 1997, adding that business had been better than expected. “Not a night goes by when someone doesn’t thank me for reopening the drive-in.”

Lipuma moved the Brookville, purchased the Moonlite and reopened it in May 1997. That may have been why he chose not to renew his lease with the Galaxy after the 2004 season. Todd Ament took over and reopened the drive-in in July 2005 as the Riverside to avoid entanglements with the Galaxy’s previous business dealings.

When the Pittsburgh City Paper talked with Ament in 2006, he said the name change was more important than he’d thought. “People think the Galaxy is gone,” he said, “and don’t know that the drive-in has re-opened. … It’s hard to advertise when you’re on a budget. You rely on word of mouth, and the Internet.”

The public radio program Marketplace talked with Ament in 2013 about the switch to digital projection. You can hear that report, and when he sounds like on the phone, below:

The Riverside’s main claim to fame these days is its twice-yearly dusk-to-dawn Monsterama celebrations of horror movies. The embedded YouTube video of the day shows the first few minutes of one of those shows. There’s another report of what it’s like here.

The drive-in had closed for the season in mid-October this year. I’m glad it will be back in the spring.

Miles Today / Total: 31 / 38814 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 199

Nearby Restaurant: I love the little comfort-food diner-style restaurants to refresh my soul after coming to another drive-in that’s closed for the season. The G & G Restaurant had all that. In this case, the cranberry walnut chicken salad for lunch gave me a nice mix of flavors and nutrition so I could feel smug while adding a slice of autumn cake with pumpkin, banana, and carrot. Great stuff!

Where I Virtually Stayed: I couldn’t find any hotels really close to the Riverside, so I had to head west to Tarentum where there’s a SpringHill Suites. This is one of those places where I could stay a week, with a kitchenette in my room. Wifi was solid. Breakfast had eggs and fruit and the continental regulars. It’s all good.

Only in Vandergrift: Just a few miles west in Tarentum, there’s the Tour-Ed Coal Mine and Museum, where visitors can experience what it was like to be a coal miner in the 1850s. There’s also an above-ground strip mine, a mine rescue vehicle, and a 1785 log house.

Next stop: Starlight Drive-In, Butler PA .