Sad news. The Starlight Drive-In, which sits about halfway between St. Henry and Maria Stein OH, won’t reopen this year. Its owner, who was still posting movie information notes on the Starlight’s Facebook page May 8, died suddenly on May 10. According to his obituary, Dan Myers, 72, had operated the Starlight Drive-In since 1988.
Elaine Myers posted to Facebook the next day, “We are sorry to announce that the Starlight Drive-In Rt.127 119 will not be open this season.” It had been scheduled to open May 26.
I wrote more extensively about the Starlight when I paid it a virtual visit in 2017. Back then, Mr. Myers had found enough cash to convert to digital projection even though his GoFundMe appeal fell short. “If you’re ever in the area of grand Lake St. Mary’s in Ohio stop in and say hi,” he wrote. I’m sorry I never got the chance to do that.
Nothing is as important as the passing of a family member. Although it makes me feel guilty, I hope that after the Myers folks work through the emotions and practicalities of the situation, they can find someone to operate the Starlight for the benefit of all of its patrons.
I’m happy to have some really good news to report. Local entrepreneur Paul Cole is pouring half a million dollars to renovate and reopen a prized drive-in of his youth – the Rose City in Newark NY. The story came to us first from the Finger Lake Times, and WROC, Rochester’s News Leader, followed up with the YouTube video you hopefully see above.
“I remember coming here as a kid,” Cole told the Times. “They used to have a playground in the back. We were here the night my mother broke water with my brother. That was 1975.” The Rose City stayed alive for another decade, closing after the 1985 season. (Not 1981, as the Times erroneously wrote.)
Cole purchased the property this year from the estate of the late Eugene Colacino. The original screen, 100×45 feet, is still standing after decades of overlooking Highway 31. Recent aerial photos suggest that the original ramps are still in place. But the screen needs some cleanup, and for the concession-projection building, Cole is pretty much starting from scratch.
WROC said that Cole plans to have a soft launch in the fall, with an official opening following next April. (That sounds like what the reborn Tee Pee Drive-In of Sapulpa OK did last fall and this spring.) It’s great to see another classic drive-in getting restored to a modern version of its former glory.
Which is better? To have a drive-in suddenly close, as Mitchell SD’s Starlite did this week? Or to know that a local drive-in is on borrowed time, giving patrons an opportunity to pay their respects? Given that unhappy choice, I’d pick the latter, so that’s a small bit of comfort that comes with today’s news that the Santee Drive-In Theatre is in escrow to a company that erects large industrial buildings.
The East County Magazine reported today that the Santee is in escrow to North Palisades Partners from Los Angeles. A city official said that North Palisades has filed for approval to build a 291,000-square foot edifice on the site, and that the approval process would take “at least six months.”
What of the Santee’s current, or is that previous owners? On its web site and Facebook page, the drive-in is still promoting movies, selling merchandise, and hosting a popular swap meet, all with no mention that 2023 might be its final season. The magazine article said that requests for comment went unanswered, and the city official said that the owners “don’t want to answer questions about the closing.”
So there you have it. If you live anywhere near the Santee, this might be your chance for one last visit. It’s sad to see venerable drive-ins close just for redevelopment, but it least we got a bit of warning this time.
Update: Somebody, maybe the owners, has been adamant in stressing that the Santee hasn’t been actually sold yet; it’s still in escrow. Which is a necessary step that one normally undertakes only with the goal of selling, but yeah, that’s true.