AL’s Cinemagic to close

2013 photo © Brad Smith, from the Carload Flickr pool

Although a few drive-ins open every year, another few close when their retiring owners can’t find anyone willing to take over. It sounds like that’s what happened in Athens AL, where the Cinemagic Drive-In will close at the end of July because its owner, Ralph Freehauf, is selling the place to someone who plans to develop the site into a church.

According to WAFF, Huntsville’s News Leader, the Cinemagic opened in 1997 and added an adjacent indoor theater in 2006. (I praised that combination when I made just my 11th stop on my Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey in 2017.) Freehauf told WAFF that he had hoped to sell it to someone who would keep the Cinemagic as a theater, and there was a note that the new owners will keep two of the projectors for possible future movie nights.

“We did our best over the 25 years that we’ve had the drive-in, and 15 years that we’ve had the indoor to give them a pleasurable experience watching a movie,” Freehauf said.

If you head over to that WAFF link, you can watch some video (which I couldn’t embed here, darn it) of the Cinemagic’s final month. I appreciate that Freehauf gave his patrons notice so they can enjoy one last trip for a show under that stars.

Video: Henagar Drive-In Under New Management

WHNT, Huntsville AL’s News Leader, ran a story this week about the Wilson family, which started operating the Henagar Drive-In Theatre last month.

The Henagar made national news in early 2017 when its then-owners announced on Facebook that it wouldn’t show the live-action Beauty and the Beast because of a gay character in that movie. The drive-in was sold to Kala Penney just a few months later, and the 2017 season apparently progressed normally.

There were no Facebook posts from November 2017 to late July 2018, when a note said that “Henagar Drive-in will be re-opening, under our new management”. After a month of frantic work, the first movie of the year was shown on Sept. 7.

New operator Dominique Wilson told WHNT, “When the owner of the drive-in contacted me to lease it, I thought who better than my family.” She said they revived it to be a benefit to the community. I’m just glad to see that the Henagar get the positive press the new crew deserves.

Mar. 16: Henagar Drive-In Theatre, Henagar AL

It’s Day 75 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It took less than an hour to drive down I-59 from Centre to the Henagar Drive-In Theatre in Henagar AL, the epicenter of the largest national drive-in news story since Honda’s Project Drive-In in 2013.

According to Cinema Treasures, the Henagar was built in 2002 and converted to digital projection in 2014. Apparently it was sold to Carol Laney, who posted to Facebook, “As of December 16th (2016) the Henagar Drive-In is under new ownership.” As summarized in the Kansas City Star, later sentences in that Facebook post sparked a national discussion. “When companies continually force their views on us we need to take a stand,” it said, announcing that the drive-in would not show Disney’s live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast because it includes a gay character.

During all the discussion and jokes, I’ve stayed silent about this issue. Each theater should be free to avoid any movie it doesn’t want to screen for any reason or no reason at all. I’m certain that decisions like this have quietly played out in drive-ins across the country. The difference here was the announcement, which was naturally going to separate folks who agree with it from the folks who don’t. Dozens of other drive-ins will premiere Beauty and the Beast this coming weekend, at least one with special ballroom dancing, but none of them will generate a tenth of the press that the Henagar’s post inspired.

The Henagar is only open Friday through Sunday at this time of year, and for once I was glad that I wouldn’t need to show my support or opposition or indifference. On this Thursday night, it was closed, so I was free to watch basketball all evening.

Miles Today / Total:  44 / 9275 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 41

Nearby Restaurant: I can see why the drive-in advertises its food; I couldn’t find anywhere else to eat in Henagar. Since I was staying in Rainsville, I chose Topher’s Wings as a great place to gorge on mancave food while watching basketball on TV. Oh, and they have salad, so I could blend in a little healthiness too.

Where I Virtually Stayed: There aren’t any hotels in Henagar. The closest decent place I could find was 14 miles away, the Super 8 in Rainsville. My room and a mini-fridge and good wifi, and the continental breakfast was all I needed in the morning, all at a great price.

Only in Henagar: As I wrote this post, I kept having trouble with the middle vowel in Henagar. According to Wikipedia, I’m not alone. George Henegar was an early settler here, but a postal worker misspelled the name in 1878 and it stuck. Also, every year they hold the Sand Mountain Potato Festival in Henagar.

Next Stop: Wilderness Outdoor Movie Theater, Trenton GA.