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.

Mar. 15: 411 Twin Drive In, Centre AL

411 Drive-In sign

photo by Lamar, from the Carload Flickr pool

It’s Day 74 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It was a nice, easy drive of less than an hour to get from Boaz to the 411 Twin Drive In of Centre AL.

According to its web site, the 411 was built in 1953 by Emory Johnson. (The 1955 Theatre Catalog lists Glover Johnson, his father, as its operator.) It was renovated and reopened in 2001, and is now operated by Rex and Carl Johnson, the sons of Emory Johnson. They added a second screen in 2008 and converted to digital projection a few years later.

For a lot of drive-ins, I have to do some detective work to guess the opening date. The 411 may be the only active drive-in that leaves me wondering when it closed. My references show its first life continuing through 1987 at least, but Cinema Treasures says it closed in 1983. When I asked the 411 folks, they agreed with 1983, so I guess those reference books just didn’t notice for awhile.

The 411 is only open Friday through Sunday at this time of year. Once again I found myself wishing that every night was a Friday night.

Miles Today / Total:  34 / 9231 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 41

Nearby Restaurant: The Centre Fuel City BBQ (formerly a Shell station) served up what it easily the best barbecue I’ve ever picked up at a gas station. Great baked beans, green beans, and a tater tot casserole made a very filling lunch. I guess you could call Fuel City a filling station.

Where I Virtually Stayed: The Days Inn here is very basic, but there aren’t a lot of choices in Centre. My room was clean, there was a little something for breakfast, and the low prices leave enough in the budget to splurge later elsewhere.

Only in Centre: I could talk about the three 10- to 12-foot high outdoor fish statues in front of the Weiss Lake Lodge (“crappie capitol of the world”), but that’s so commercial. Instead, we’ll turn to John Pratt Memorial Park, aka Pratt Cemetery, the final resting place of John Jonathan Pratt, who invented the pterotype, an early form of typewriter.

Next Stop: Henagar Drive-In Theatre, Henagar AL.