Oct. 31: Jericho Drive-in, Glenmont NY

It’s Day 304 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. On Halloween, I scurried to a safe retreat, driving less than two hours from the Unadilla Drive-In in Unadilla NY, of course, to the Jericho Drive-in in Glenmont NY.

The story according to Oval Pike is, “The Jericho opened in 1955, after two brothers bought the land from the physician who lived across the road.” It’s true that the incorporation papers for Jericho & 9-W Drive-In Theater, Inc. were filed with the state on Sept. 16, 1955, and DriveInMovie.com wrote that those brothers were Morris and Raphael Klein. But New York Drive-Ins and everybody else says that the grand opening was on Flag Day, June 14, 1957.

The International Motion Picture Almanac still listed Morris Klein as the owner in its 1966 edition, and the Jericho’s capacity was 520 cars. Then came a few decades where I’m really not sure what happened.

The Spotlight of Albany County says that current owners Mike and Lisa Chenette bought the Jericho in 1995. About 2007, they carved out a piece of their viewing field to open the TwisT ice cream stand. (Which offers 25 flavors of hard ice cream and 22 varieties of soft serve including eight combinations of candy that can be added! But I digress.) In 2013, they tried and failed to get a free digital projector in Honda’s Project Drive-In. In 2014, they tried fundraisers to build up some of the cast they’d need, and they upgraded to digital projection in 2015.

And that’s about all I’ve got for this beloved local staple. The video of the day must have first aired on WNYT, Albany’s News Leader, in early 2014 although it was posted to YouTube over two years later.

The Jericho is closed for the season. The ice cream stand was closed for Halloween, but otherwise expects to stay open through this Sunday.

Miles Today / Total: 100 / 34407 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 185

Nearby Restaurant: I find a good old 50s-style diner to be a great salve for missing out on the drive-in experience, and Johnny B’s Glenmont Diner fits that to a T. It’s not shy about sharing all the awards it’s won, or about nailing plenty of vinyl records to the wall. Everyone was dressed up for Halloween, adding to the surreal. Oh yes, the breakfast was amazing, with eggs and bacon and plenty of coffee.

Where I Virtually Stayed: There were a couple of hotels closer to the Jericho, but the Hilton Garden Inn by the Albany Medical Center was just six miles away, so I went with one of my favorite chains. There were cookies waiting for me at check-in, my room had all the modern amenities, and my Hilton Gold status scored me a free breakfast from its substantial buffet.

Only in Glenmont: Next door in Albany, there’s a 28-foot tall, four-ton steel and fiberglass statue of Nipper, the dog best known as listening to “His Master’s Voice” for RCA. According to the Albany Institute of History & Art, Nipper came to his downtown perch in 1958 following renovations of a rundown warehouse built in 1900. The refurbished structure became the new home of RTA, a distributor specializing in RCA appliances. The sculpture was fabricated in Chicago, shipped by rail in five sections, and assembled on the roof with the help of a ten-story crane.

Next stop: Greenville Drive-In Outdoor Cinema, Greenville NY.

Oct. 30: Unadilla Drive-In, Unadilla NY

Unadilla Drive-In marquee and screen

Photo from the Unadilla Drive-In Facebook page

It’s Day 303 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. On the Monday before Halloween, nobody was going to be showing movies, so I might as well start checking in with more drive-ins that are closed for the season. On this day, that meant driving an hour and a half from the Circle Drive In Theatre in Dickson City PA to the Unadilla Drive-In in Unadilla NY, of course.

Like the Garden Drive In, which I visited four days earlier, the Unadilla is adjacent to the Susquehanna River to its south. This is where I like to list the full history of the drive-in, but the The Daily Star of Oneonta beat me to it in an article on May 22, 2016. According to the newspaper accounts of the day, two guys from Albany built the Unadilla – John Gardner, operator of the Turnpike Drive-In, and Al LaFamme, manager of the Strand Theater. The new drive-in opened on a Tuesday, May 29, 1956.

(An aside: The 1957 International Motion Picture Almanac said the owners were Gardner and “A. O. La Flamme”, with an L. I don’t think that’s a typo. There was definitely an Alcide LaFlamme who lived in Albany in May 1956 and was mentioned as living in Unadilla during 1961-67 at least. That seems like quite a coincidence in a town of fewer than 4000 residents. But newspaper articles about the drive-in consistently use LaFamme, so that’s how I’ll spell it for the rest of this post.)

The Daily Star quoted its Aug. 22, 1986 article when “Michael and Beatrice Chonka were determined to keep their drive-in open, as they had for the last 17 years.” That put the purchase date around 1969. But the Binghamton NY Press and Sun Bulletin wrote in August 1983 that Michael Chonka had “31 years in Unadilla – 15 years as owner”, which would make it 1968.

The 1986 Daily Star article mostly concurred, “Chonka, a Binghamton native, started in the business almost two decades ago when Al LaFamme, who built the Unadilla theater, asked him to come to work. … when LaFamme wanted to sell some time later, Chonka bought the theater.”

Michael Chonka passed away in August 1994, and the theater closed earlier than usual that season. Trevor Ladner and Thomas Owens bought the Unadilla from his widow and re-opened it in late May 1995.

A long story in the July 15, 2016 PressConnects.com is the best source after that. It said that “Unadilla’s current owners are Eric and Marcia Wilson, who bought the property in 2000”. The old wooden screen was blown down in a windstorm “three years ago” and was replaced by a steel screen. The Wilsons’ children work there now, and Rob Tracey is the general manager.

And that brings us to where we are today, with the Unadilla closed for the season.

Miles Today / Total: 92 / 34307 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 185

Nearby Restaurant: The humble Parkview Deli in Unadilla looks like a converted house, but the food is big on the inside. There’s a lot more than just deli food; I had the redneck burger with bacon and habanero salsa, plus a side of garbage fries topped with onions, olives, peppers, and lots of other stuff. It’s not hard to get full here.

Where I Virtually Stayed: The closest hotel to the Unadilla is the Super 8 in Sydney nine miles west. The price is so reasonable that I upgraded to a suite to get my favorite modern amenities in the room. The wifi was solid and the continental breakfast was the usual Super 8 quality. It’s nice to have such a decent hotel close by.

Only in Unadilla: The most famous athlete associated with Unadilla wasn’t human. Spectacular Bid, the winner of the 1979 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, won over $2.7 million in his short career. He spent the last 12 years of his life in semi-retirement (still occasionally servicing mares) at Milfer Farms in Unadilla.

Next stop: Jericho Drive-in, Glenmont NY.

Oct. 28: Warwick Drive-In Theatre, Warwick NY

It’s Day 301 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It was time to get back on the  Pennsylvania Turnpike for part of the 2½-hour drive from the Mahoning Drive-In Theater a few miles west of Lehighton PA to the Warwick Drive-In Theatre, just across the border and a couple of miles west of Warwick NY.

The Warwick has a great history, kept up to date, on the About Us page of its web site. The drive-in was built in 1950 by Charles and Mary Finger in partnership with George and Adeline Miller on land owned by Paul and Emma Miller. George and Adeline sold out to Russ and Gloria Eurich. It had one 70-by-40-foot screen and parking for 350 cars. Soon, the Fingers bought out the business from the Eurichs. It was run successfully by the Finger family for 25 years.

The Fingers retired and sold the drive-in to Frank Seeber in 1977. Seeber also bought the property from Miller’s widow, then bought more acreage from her in 1982. Seeber and his wife Ann expanded the drive-in to two screens with two projection rooms. Before 1995, they added a third screen and more ticket selling stations to comply “with the town’s insistence on controlling the traffic and parking situations.”

In 1995, the Seebers retired from the drive-in business and sold the theater and land to Beth and Ernest Wilson as Casey Family Theaters, Inc. “We named the company after our nickname for Cassandra, the youngest of our four children,” Beth told the Warwick Valley Chamber. “She was born on the day we purchased the business.”

Beth’s sister, Laurey Keller, assists with daily operations, and Beth and Laurey’s children have worked at the Warwick throughout the years. Concession manager Joan Damon has been with the theater since the 1970s, before the Seebers bought it. The drive-in converted to digital projection in 2014.

The Warwick is the closest drive-in to Manhattan, about 90 minutes away, and for years was the closest drive-in to New Jersey. I was fortunate enough to catch it on the very last night of its 2017 season. Although it was the Saturday before Halloween, there were plenty of “regular” choices available to watch.

The YouTube video of the day comes from the time of digital conversion. It’s a nice little slice of life at the drive-in.

Miles Today / Total: 105 / 34131 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: American Made / 184

Nearby Restaurant: Some of the best ice cream anywhere can be found at the Bellvale Farms Creamery in Warwick. For the season, I tried their pumpkin flavor, then I added some Black Dirt Blast on a homemade waffle cone. Did you know that with enough ice cream, you don’t need anything else for dinner?

Where I Virtually Stayed: The nicest place to stay in Warwick is probably the Inn at Stony Creek, a restored colonial farmhouse bed and breakfast built in 1840. My room had its own bathroom and good wifi. Breakfast was an amazing homemade experience, so different from the cookie-cutter hotel breakfast buffets. Good stuff!

Only in Warwick: Zen spirituality author and artist Frederick Franck created the Pacem in Terris sculpture garden around a rebuilt old windmill along the Wawayanda River in Warwick. It holds occasional poetry readings and concerts, but it’s nice and peaceful as it is.

Next stop: Circle Drive In Theatre, Dickson City PA.