Trivia that was accurate as of last week: Of the (about) 311 active US drive-ins, four of them are located by the city or town of Franklin in four different states. The first three are the Milky Way Drive-In in Wisconsin, Warner’s Drive-In in West Virginia, and Canary Creek Cinemas in Indiana.
Today, those are the only three. On Monday, the owners of the Franklin Drive-In in Kentucky announced that they had sold the place, and that it would no longer operate as a drive-in theater. There were several local news organizations reporting the story, but I don’t think any of them had any more to work with than the Franklin’s original Facebook post. WBKO, Bowling Green’s News Leader, posted a video anyway of mostly file footage, which is better than nothing.
Of course, I virtually visited the Franklin in 2017 during my 2017 Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. As I wrote then, the drive-in was a literal stone’s throw from Tennessee and less than 40 miles away from Nashville. The Franklin was family owned and operated since 1969, most recently by the Prices and their families. It began its life as the 31W or 31 West Drive-In, since that’s the highway that it’s on, and changed its name to the Franklin some time after the demise of the original Franklin Drive-In, which operated on Russellville Road from 1960 until some time around 1980.
The closure announcement noted that the Franklin “has been in our family for 33 years and we bought it from the original family who built it.” The owners blamed traffic (huh?), light pollution, and the rise of streaming services for their decision. I always thought that traffic was a good thing, with more motorists seeing your marquee, but light is definitely an issue in a lot of places. Since the dawn of television, it’s always been the main opponent for theaters in general; the solution is to provide an experience you can’t get at home.
But it’s always possible that the Franklin’s owners just got a nice retirement-funding purchase offer and took it. It’s just a shame that they couldn’t find someone else ready to keep the movie nights going.
We can always use a bit of good news, as was published in this morning’s Pueblo Chieftain. Marcella Snyder and her husband Jon Parkin, already the owners of the Tibbs Drive-In in Indianapolis, have purchased the Mesa Drive-In in Pueblo CO. They’re working on upgrades to the plumbing and a few other items, and are looking to reopen around Memorial Day weekend.
The slightly sad part of the story is a farewell to Chuck and Marianne James, longtime supporters of this blog, who are retiring. They had owned the Mesa since they saved it from the bulldozers in 1994. In 2000, they added two screens to their drive-in from others in Colorado that had closed. After those decades of stewardship, it’s so nice that they found another drive-in enthusiast to take over.
In honor of the transition, the Chieftain produced a nice little slideshow video documenting some of the Mesa’s history. I would note that there are significantly more than 200 active drive-ins in the US, but that’s a minor quibble. Let’s all be happy that this Colorado landmark shows every sign of staying active for decades to come.
Here’s another positive sign: The owners of the Holiday Drive-In west of Rockport IN have installed a sixth screen. That’s today’s news from the Messenger-Inquirer, based just across the Ohio River in Owensboro KY.
I’ll admit that this news confuses me a little. When I made my virtual visit to the Holiday last April, I noted that it had added that sixth screen in 2016. Today’s news said that the final work on that screen was done by Tim Moseley, son of former owner Darrell Moseley, who passed away in 2016. There’s a present-day photo of a crane hoisting the screen into place, so I must have been wrong last year.
Anyway, the Messenger-Inquirer story said that the new screen had been “saved from the former drive-in in Henderson,” and that this was Darrell’s last big improvement planned for the Holiday, which he bought in 1978. There were at least three drive-ins in Henderson KY: the Audubon, the Hi-Y, and the Starlite, which was the last to close. Maybe that’s where Screen 6 came from.
Even better, the younger Moseley is adding another concession stand and associated rest rooms, which should all be open by next summer. Shorter walks to the bathroom are always welcome!
Two things you should check out: that Messenger-Inquirer article with photo, and Google’s Street View of the Holiday. Although it’s a decade old, there’s a virtual drive all the way through the drive-in property, showing the signs for all five screens. I wish we had a lot more like that!