Maybe it’s just that time of year, but I’ve been reading way too many stories lately about drive-ins closing or otherwise in trouble. Today’s entry comes via WJHL, Johnson City’s News Leader, which reports that the Stateline Drive-in in Elizabethton TN is for sale.
Stateline owner Andy Wetzel said, “Obviously I’m getting older. I’ve done this for 27 years, my wife and I realized our kids are grown. They’re in the military, they’re moving different places and we would like to have the opportunity to go visit. It’s just more freedom.”
The good news is the Wetzel would prefer to let the Stateline remain a drive-in, and that some of the prospective buyers sniffing around have been theater owners. And maybe the best news is that the Stateline should reopen as normal next month.
For a discussion of the Stateline’s history, check out the virtual visit I made there in 2017. And if you want to experience this 75-year-old drive-in in person, better make plans soon, just in case.
Procrastination. I’ve been busy the past couple of weeks putting Drive-Ins of New Mexico to bed. After I get a proof copy next week and count the mistakes, the book should be available for sale by the end of the month.
But I have to admit that I wasn’t in a hurry to relay this news. Preston Brown, the owner of Hound’s Drive-In in Kings Mountain NC, announced on Facebook a couple of weeks ago that he would not reopen this year. The Shelby Star reported that Brown sold the site to Albemarle Corp., a Charlotte-based chemical company, and that it may become a lithium mine.
The closure was widely reported, such as on WCNC, Charlotte’s News Leader, but I had to turn to its brief YouTube summary to find a video to embed.
In his post, Brown wrote that “We started this journey together with a vision of a campground and drive-in movie theater that ultimately turned into the #1 highest-grossing drive-in theater with the largest screens in the nation. We broke attendance records not only with other drive-ins, but walk-in theaters also.”
If you want to reflect on happier times, go back to my virtual visit there in November 2017, barely a year after Hound’s opened. Back then, they were just building a second screen to handle the enthusiastic crowds. It’s a shame to see all that hard work sunk into a mine.
Interested in running a drive-in theater? The National Park Service has everything you need.
The NPS has issued a Request for Proposals for the Hyde Park Drive In Theatre, which is part of the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site. The nine-acre site includes everything you’d need, with a screen, a ticket booth, room for about 670 cars, and a projection-concession building. You can find out more, including where to apply at the NPS site.
What’s missing from this story is what happened to the old owners. This drive-in opened as the Hyde Park Auto Vision Theatre on July 28, 1950, owned by Sidney Cohen and his brother-in-law Phil Eisenberg. It had stayed in the Cohen family ever since. (I virtually visited the Hyde Park in 2017 as part of my Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey, which is when I learned most of this history.)
The Cohen family used to own both the drive-in and its land. In the early 2000s, property taxes rose to unsustainable levels for the drive-in, and Wal-Mart was interested in buying the land. Scenic Hudson, a Poughkeepsie-based environmental group, bought the property and leased it back to the Cohen family. “Scenic Hudson bought the land because they didn’t want a Wal-Mart going in right smack across from the Roosevelt home,” manager Andy Cohen told The New York Times in 2008.
In July 2011, Scenic Hudson transferred ownership of the drive-in’s land to the NPS. As the Red Hook Observer pointed out in 2014, the Hyde Park is the only drive-in on park service land. The last note I saw was an October 2014 BBC article, where owner Barry Horowitz (Sidney Cohen’s son-in-law) said he had just completed converting to digital projection.
I hope that the family’s departure from the Hyde Park was somehow positive for them. It definitely opens a new opportunity for anyone to step up and “attract diverse visitors” to the area, as the NPS put it. I’d bet we’ll hear more about the new operators later this year.