New drive-in coming to Mississippi

Since I don’t have any pictures of the construction site, here’s a photo of John Watzke’s current gig, the Ocala Drive-In, from its web site

Here’s some good news for the New Year. Veteran drive-in operator John Watzke, currently running the Ocala Drive-In in Florida, is building another ozoner west of Bay St. Louis MS. Work actually started a few months ago on the still-unnamed drive-in, but last week we were treated to a full story about the project and Watzke in the Mississippi Free Press.

In reverse of how this usually goes, the new drive-in is being built on the site of an old trailer park. The 10-acre plot has been vacant since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 and did what hurricanes do to trailer parks. (Seriously, living in a Gulf Coast mobile home seems to me like walking to work across a busy interstate highway. But I digress.)

Watzke said his drive-in should open by April 2023 with a 60×34-foot screen 45 feet up. If all goes well, he’ll add a second screen a few years later. The concession stand will include an arcade, and the menu will have such Ocala favorites as muffaletts and po-boys.

The article has much more, including plenty of Watzke-provided photos, history of his family’s involvement with theaters, and a mention of controlling fire ants. (And you thought mosquitoes were the most annoying insects.) So now you know you need to go read it!

Jan. 14: Iuka, Iuka MS

drive-in concession stand and screen

photo from the Iuka Drive-In Facebook page

It’s Day 14 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey, time to leave Alabama for a while and sneak in to Tishomingo County, which is the northeast corner of Mississippi, and its county seat of Iuka, home of the Iuka Drive-In. The drive only took about an hour and a half.

For the third straight day, I’m at a drive-in that’s closed for the season. I was congratulating myself for not scheduling my visit for tomorrow (it’s closed Sundays), but no luck. The Iuka’s phone recording promises that it will reopen this year with digital projection, although the opening date is still unknown. A story from the Corinth MS Daily Corinthian said it tends to be in April.

I don’t know how many drive-ins are as deeply forested as the Iuka. Its lone driveway winds through trees until you see the 100-car single-screen theater that looks as though it was cleared Field of Dreams-style. (The movie, not the Ohio drive-in.)

How old is the Iuka? It’s not among the 63 Mississippi drive-ins listed in the 1955 Theatre Catalog. According to CinemaTreasures, it opened “around 1957,” but the recording thanks patrons for 28 years of support, suggesting that something started or changed in 1988.

Miles Today / Total:  74 / 1205 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 9

Nearby Restaurant: The closest was Little Smokies, which was fortunate. Sometimes I just want a barbeque plate with meat and beans and fries and sauce. It makes up for the times I eat healthy.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Really not a lot of choices in Iuka, so I chose the Victorian Inn there. It’s an older place with some friendly people, and boy, was it cheap!

Only in Iuka: According to The New York Times, after spending $1.2 billion to begin construction on the Yellow Creek nuclear power plant just north of Iuka, the Tennessee Valley Authority stopped work in 1982 and officially cancelled the project in 1984. Then NASA decided to spend $1.5 billion to refurbish the 1200-acre campus to build solid rocket motors, but Congress killed its funding in 1993 when the site was 80 percent complete.

Next Stop: Summer Drive-In, Memphis TN.