West Chicago’s Cascade On Shaky Ground

The Cascade Drive-in of West Chicago IL is in danger of being unable to open for the 2019 season because of its landowner’s renewed efforts to sell the parcel that includes the drive-in. That’s according to a story in the Daily Herald of suburban Chicago this week.

Like too many other drive-ins, the Cascade doesn’t own the land it’s on. It dodged a bullet in 2016 when West Chicago denied the landowner’s request to redevelop the site as a truck terminal facility. “The Cascade is one of the busiest movie theaters in the country,” owner Jeff Kohlberg told the Daily Herald that year. “It’s not like it’s a dilapidated drive-in.”

Despite the Cascade’s success, its active life may be over. In this week’s story, the Daily Herald wrote, “The Kuhn family owns the drive-in site and adjacent parcels totaling 53 acres, including a hot dog stand and the former headquarters of Harry Kuhn Construction. Stephen Kuhn said he has hired a new real estate broker to sell the site to a developer, ideally all in one piece.”

Kohlberg said he’s reached out to his landlord, offering to continue the previous terms of his lease, operating until an actual sale then vacating within so many days. But nobody has replied, leaving the Cascade’s owner uncertain whether to begin getting ready for his traditional opener in early April.

“I’m still holding out hope,” Kohlberg said. “If we don’t open in April, it looks like it’ll never open up at all.”

July 4: Harvest Moon Twin Drive-In Movie Theatre, Gibson City IL

It’s Day 185 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Happy birthday, America! And the only thing more all-American than visiting a drive-in (for my 33rd consecutive night) is some highway driving to get there. It took less than two hours to go from Springfield IL to the Harvest Moon Twin Drive-In Movie Theatre in Gibson City.

The Harvest Moon opened in 1954. For the rest of its history, I’ve just got to quote Cinema Treasures directly. “In 1965, the theater was heavily damaged by a tornado, but was repaired and reopened the next year. Due to declining attendance, the Harvest Moon Drive-In was closed in 1978, but reopened by a new owner two years later. A storm in 1981 once again inflicted heavy damage to the drive-in, but this time, it wasn’t reopened for nearly eight more years, again by new owners. In 1996, the screen from the Clinton Drive-In was moved to the Harvest Moon, after that nearby drive-in was closed, and the Harvest Moon became a twin.”

That most recent owner is Mike Harroun and family. In a 2012 article in The News-Gazette of Central Illinois, Harroun was raising money for digital projectors, and promised, “We will throw a big party if we make it, and all of those (donors) will be invited.” That party, held in April 2013, was documented in a nice short video by the Chicago Tribune.

In fact, there are several nice videos of the Harvest Moon out there. The most recent is the one I embedded above, from WCIA, Champaign IL’s News Leader. The featured image for this post is from a Harvest Moon TV ad produced by WCIA. (Hmm.) And there are a couple of videos mentioning the drive-in’s wind turbine, installed in 2009.

The Harvest Moon offers frozen bananas in the concession stand. I love frozen bananas – a healthier alternative to ice cream – and I wish more places would stock them. Just as the night before, my choice in early movies was the latest Transformers installment or Despicable Me 3. Just to mix it up, I switched back to DM3 for what was my fourth viewing.

Miles Today / Total:  101 / 23665 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Despicable Me 3 / 101

Nearby Restaurant: Reviews and my love of German cuisine pointed me to the Bayern Stube Restaurant, but I was so sad to learn it was closed for the Fourth. Burgers and Beer took care of my basic needs for a welcoming atmosphere, a fine mushroom Swiss burger, and enough beer to mask my disappointment. It even offered a spectacular soft pretzel, which was just German enough.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Some unflattering reviews of nearby places put me on the road, 15 miles to the Holiday Inn Express in Rantoul. This is a nice, new hotel with the standard really nice HIE breakfast in the morning. My room had the full set of amenities. Sometimes, as its cousin used to say, the best surprise is no surprise.

Only in Gibson City: Every year, the town holds its Gibson City Harvest Festival. It includes live music, face painting, vendor tents, and a beer garden. This year, they’re moving it up to September. I wonder what gets harvested that month?

Next stop: Lake Shore Drive In, Monticello IN.

July 3: Route 66 Twin Drive-In, Springfield IL

It’s Day 184 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Now that it was Monday, it was time to head back to a drive-in that’s open on Mondays, so I drove back three and a half hours from Spencer IN to the Route 66 Twin Drive-In in Springfield IL.

According to Cinema Treasures, the 66 opened as the two-screen Green Meadows Drive-In in 1974, but closed in 1982. (A 2009 article in the Illinois Times claims the Green Meadows opened in 1976 and closed in 1980, but I believe the CT’s timeline.) The Knight Family, owners of an adjacent amusement park, bought the site in the early 1990s with an eye toward expansion. They renovated and reopened the drive-in as the Route 66 in 2002 on one screen, then lit the second two years later.

In that Times article, Doug Knight mentioned the challenge of restarting a drive-in with leftover equipment that had been sitting idle for a couple of decades. “We got online and went to a bunch of drive-in sites and started looking around,” he said. The company rebuilt the concession and projection buildings and switched the FM radio sound.

The video embedded above comes from the Route 66 Ambassador blog of his visit in 2010. You don’t get to see very many nighttime drive-in glimpse like that.

Normally I would not be so eager to see the latest Transformers installment a second time. But the other choice would have been Despicable Me 3, a better movie but one I’ve seen three times so far with who knows how many more viewings to come over the next couple of weeks.

Miles Today / Total:  187 / 23564 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Transformers: The Last Knight / 100!

Nearby Restaurant: Just because of the name, I had to have breakfast for lunch at Charlie Parker’s Diner. With vinyl records hanging on the walls and the traditional black and white and red diner decor, this place does a great job with the retro vibe. I just had a hard time deciding between its “breakfast shoe” of meat covered in gravy and hash browns vs. the giant plate-sized pancakes. All it missed was a jazz virtuoso playing the saxophone.

Where I Virtually Stayed: According to TripAdvisor, the best hotel in Springfield is also the closest to the Route 66 Drive-In. And since it’s another Hampton Inn, I had no reason not to stay there. The Hampton’s web site mentions the drive-in, so that’s a plus. There were goodies in the lobby in the evening, my comfortable room had the full set of amenities, and the fine standard Hampton breakfast got me started. It’s an easy choice.

Only in Springfield: For some Route 66 nostalgia, or maybe state fair nostalgia, you must visit the Cozy Dog Drive In restaurant, which was started by the restaurateurs who came up with the idea of battered hot dogs on a stick, what we now call corn dogs. Its Wikipedia entry says the inventor started selling its “cozy dogs,” at the Illinois State Fair in 1946 where they gained popularity, and the rest is history.

Next stop: Harvest Moon Twin Drive-In Movie Theatre, Gibson City IL.