I’m happy to have some really good news to report. Local entrepreneur Paul Cole is pouring half a million dollars to renovate and reopen a prized drive-in of his youth – the Rose City in Newark NY. The story came to us first from the Finger Lake Times, and WROC, Rochester’s News Leader, followed up with the YouTube video you hopefully see above.
“I remember coming here as a kid,” Cole told the Times. “They used to have a playground in the back. We were here the night my mother broke water with my brother. That was 1975.” The Rose City stayed alive for another decade, closing after the 1985 season. (Not 1981, as the Times erroneously wrote.)
Cole purchased the property this year from the estate of the late Eugene Colacino. The original screen, 100×45 feet, is still standing after decades of overlooking Highway 31. Recent aerial photos suggest that the original ramps are still in place. But the screen needs some cleanup, and for the concession-projection building, Cole is pretty much starting from scratch.
WROC said that Cole plans to have a soft launch in the fall, with an official opening following next April. (That sounds like what the reborn Tee Pee Drive-In of Sapulpa OK did last fall and this spring.) It’s great to see another classic drive-in getting restored to a modern version of its former glory.
Interested in running a drive-in theater? The National Park Service has everything you need.
The NPS has issued a Request for Proposals for the Hyde Park Drive In Theatre, which is part of the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site. The nine-acre site includes everything you’d need, with a screen, a ticket booth, room for about 670 cars, and a projection-concession building. You can find out more, including where to apply at the NPS site.
What’s missing from this story is what happened to the old owners. This drive-in opened as the Hyde Park Auto Vision Theatre on July 28, 1950, owned by Sidney Cohen and his brother-in-law Phil Eisenberg. It had stayed in the Cohen family ever since. (I virtually visited the Hyde Park in 2017 as part of my Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey, which is when I learned most of this history.)
The Cohen family used to own both the drive-in and its land. In the early 2000s, property taxes rose to unsustainable levels for the drive-in, and Wal-Mart was interested in buying the land. Scenic Hudson, a Poughkeepsie-based environmental group, bought the property and leased it back to the Cohen family. “Scenic Hudson bought the land because they didn’t want a Wal-Mart going in right smack across from the Roosevelt home,” manager Andy Cohen told The New York Times in 2008.
In July 2011, Scenic Hudson transferred ownership of the drive-in’s land to the NPS. As the Red Hook Observer pointed out in 2014, the Hyde Park is the only drive-in on park service land. The last note I saw was an October 2014 BBC article, where owner Barry Horowitz (Sidney Cohen’s son-in-law) said he had just completed converting to digital projection.
I hope that the family’s departure from the Hyde Park was somehow positive for them. It definitely opens a new opportunity for anyone to step up and “attract diverse visitors” to the area, as the NPS put it. I’d bet we’ll hear more about the new operators later this year.
Christmas is a time where there typically isn’t a whole lot of drive-in theater news to report. There are scattered holiday markets or expanded flea markets, but that seems mundane. I found something else that sounds odd, but at least it might be interesting.
The Great American Family channel premiered an original movie, Christmas at the Drive-In, on Thanksgiving weekend this year. (It’s showing again on Thursday, Dec. 8, and probably again later in the season.) The synopsis says the movie is about a woman who returns to her home town, Chesterfield NY, to save its drive-in theater by helping it acquire historic preservation status or something like that. She becomes frenemies with the new owner, who just inherited the Chesterfield Drive-In from his late father. Could there be holiday romance brewing? Will they need to work together to save the beloved drive-in?
Update: Despite the “Chesterfield”s in the original synopsis, the movie wisely switched to the fictional McCarthy Drive-In in Brenington. More details in the next post.
(I confess that I don’t understand the allure of this kind of Christmas movie, and I especially don’t understand why dozens of them flood the airwaves every holiday season. Is there some special factor about them, or are they strictly for folks who enjoy reading lots of romance novels? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I digress.)
I was surprised at the amount of detail I could find about its shooting locations at The Cinemaholic site, though it left me with more questions than answers. All of the photography took place in northern Ontario in September 2022. Most of it was at North Bay, on the shore of Lake Nipissing, with some scenes shot in Sudbury. Those are great places to get cold in early autumn, but what’s missing from those locations is anything that would look like a potentially historic drive-in theater. The Horizon Drive-In travels northern Ontario with a pop-up screen that it inflates at various locations, but surely they wouldn’t use that, would they?
I haven’t seen the movie. I saw a 30-second trailer on YouTube; there are issues. From glimpses in the background of the small viewing field, it looks like they really are using that inflatable screen. A photo at the official movie web site shows the protagonists in front of an outdoor concession stand. I know that such outdoor stands used to exist, but it’s much more common for even historic drive-ins to serve up their snacks indoors.
What I find ironic is that, although the real town of Chesterfield NY never had a drive-in, right across Lake Champlain in Colchester VT, the Sunset Drive-In has been active since 1948 and is still open. That would have been the perfect stand-in for a fictional historic drive-in; too bad it’s more expensive to film in Vermont than in Ontario.
Anyway, if you want to see a modern-day depiction of what someone thinks drive-ins are like, feel free to tune in this season.