Tiffin’s Field of Dreams Will Restore Neon

Daylight photo of the mural on the back of the screen of the Mission Drive-In Theatre

Here’s an example of how a glorious neon display on the back of a drive-in screen used to look. This one’s in San Antonio, and its restoration used faux neon. Photo by Neon Michael from the Carload Flickr pool

In Sunday’s edition of The Advertiser-Tribune of Tiffin OH, neon artist Michael Flechtner is recreating some of the original neon at the Field of Dreams Drive-In, which spent most of its life as the Tiffin.

When I last wrote about this Field of Dreams (the original is in Liberty Center), its owners were listed as Rod and Donna Saunders, but Sunday’s article said the owner is Donna Callahan-Saunders. I don’t know whether that’s a change. Anyway, Callahan-Saunders told The Advertiser-Tribune that the original neon had been removed before they purchased the drive-in in 2011, because the neon tubes would break in severe weather. “Part of the work to restore the neon is to work with local experts who can help design a way to protect the neon tubing from severe elements,” she said.

That might answer my nagging question of what had happened to most of the wonderful neon murals that once commonly covered the backs of drive-in screens. The old Theatre Catalogs were full of them, but now they’re pretty hard to find.

Flechtner said he planned to meet with the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati, and was trying to find any photos of the old Tiffin’s neon display. Sounds like something that’s going to look great for the start of the 2018 season.

Dec. 17: Skyway Twin Drive-In Theatre & Elm Road Triple Drive-In Theatre, Warren OH

It’s Day 351 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Two weeks to go! It was just a little above freezing as I drove just a bit more than a half hour from the Midway Twin Drive In Theater, halfway along the road between Kent OH and Ravenna OH, to the Skyway Twin Drive-In Theatre on the northwest side of Warren OH. Then I continued on an extra 10 minutes to the Elm Road Triple Drive-In Theatre on the northeast side of Warren, one of the very few cities with two active drive-ins.

I just can’t find out a whole lot about the history of the Skyway. From all accounts, it opened in 1949. Industry lists suggest it was run by Herbert Horstemeier’s Ohio Theatre Service Corp. for its first couple of decades. By 1978, the owner was listed as S. Doane.

Vindy.com wrote that on May 9, 1977, Trumbull County deputy sheriffs raided the Skyway to confiscate an X-rated movie, Russ Meyer’s “Up,” and arrested the theater’s owner, Steve Doane. Sheriff Richard Jakmas said the theater had been under investigation since January, when a complaint was filed.

Slightly stale corporate records indicate that the Doane Theater Corp was formed in 1966 and owned the Skyway. Its last known president was Stanley Doane. Cinema Treasures says the Skyway added its second screen in September 2010.

Vindy.com wrote in 2013 that Brian DeCiancio had owned the Skyway “for a dozen years” at that point, as well as an indoor complex. He had recently upgraded the drive-in to digital projection. “We planned ahead,” said DeCiancio, when asked about how he raised the money. “We get strong support at our concession stand. Plus having the six-screen indoor theater helps, because it’s a year-round business.”

Turning to the Elm Road, I’ve got a better handle on its early years thanks to a passage in the recent book Historic Theaters of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley by Sean T. Posey. The Elm Road opened in the summer of 1950, built by Stephen Hreno, who had thought to build a roller skating rink before visiting Rainbow Gardens in Pennsylvania. “The town had a skating rink and a drive-in theater,” his son Robert recalled. “We went to look at the parking lots on a Saturday night and there were a lot more cars at the drive-in than there were at the skating rink.”

The drive-in has stayed in the family ever since. Stephen passed away in 1960, then Robert and his mother ran the business. They added a second screen in 1979 and switched to radio sound in 1983. The Elm Road’s third screen went up in May 2005.

Robert and his family installed digital projection in May 2013. By that point, his daughter and son-in-law, Sheri and Mark Hocevar, were running the Elm Road. “We’ve been saving money all along for it,” Robert said. “Digital has been around for 10 years, but they have only made projectors big enough for drive-ins for the past two years.”

I just ran a video of the Elm Road in October, so the embedded YouTube video of the day features the Skyway in the context of a classic car show.

The Skyway closed for the season in September, and the Elm Road closed in October. Both promise to return next spring.

Miles Today / Total: 25 + 5 / 39166 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 200

Nearby Restaurant: They told me the best place in town for barbecue was Cockeye BBQ, so that’s where I went. I started with a cup of Brunswick stew with corn and beans, then graduated to a half slab of ribs with some amazing corn casserole and baked beans. My entree was like the stew but with more bones. Great stuff!

Where I Virtually Stayed: Longtime readers know that the Holiday Inn Express is one of my kind of hotels. It’s efficient, nothing too fancy (or pricey), and with a reassuring sameness and good quality. Warren’s HIE provided all of that. There were cookies and coffee waiting along with a bit of fruit. My room had all the modern amenities. Breakfast was the very good HIE standard, complete with addicting cinnamon rolls. As always, I was glad to choose a place like this.

Only in Warren: As described by Roadside America, the city of Warren has twice honored one its native sons, rock star David Grohl, founder of the Foo Fighters and former drummer of Nirvana. It named an alley after him in 2009, and in 2012 unveiled 900-[pound drumsticks in his honor. After a brief stay at the Warren Amphitheater they were moved to their permanent location, in David Grohl Alley of course.

Next stop: Moonlite Drive-In Theatre, Brookville PA.

Dec. 16: Midway Twin Drive In Theater, Ravenna OH

It’s Day 350 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. On a snowy mid-December day, it took less than an hour to drive from the Mayfield Road Drive-In Theatre, a few miles south of Chardon OH to the Midway Twin Drive In Theater, halfway along the road between Kent OH and Ravenna OH.

For a drive-in with its own Wikipedia page, the Midway Twin’s history sure is muddy. As I type, it says the drive-in was built in 1955, which is obviously wrong. The May 6, 2005 Daily Kent Stater said the Midway was built in 1949, but I don’t think that’s right either.

The Midway’s first advertisement in the Akron Beacon Journal, in which it said it was “now open”, was July 27, 1950. On July 21, 1952, the Midway ad said “tonight only” was “Our Anniversary” and promised a giant fireworks display. My guess is that this drive-in opened on Friday, July 21, 1950.

What is beyond dispute is that the drive-in was designed and built by Jack Vogel and owned by the Vogel family until at least the late 1980s. The next questions are when was the drive-in sold to current owner John Knepp, and when did it add a second screen. The first time the Beacon Journal called it the Midway Twin was in June 1989 in reference to a nearby traffic accident. The Wikipedia entry said it was Knepp who added the second screen. The Daily Kent Stater said Knepp bought the Midway in 1990. I don’t know which of those is right.

The Beacon Journal wrote in August 1997, “The Midway’s obituary was almost written just a few years ago. That was when Wal-Mart came knocking. The money offered was not enough to agree to a buyout of his long-term lease on the Midway land, said John Knepp. … This spring, a Wal-Mart opened on a site west of the theater.” It’s still there.

That Wikipedia entry says the original screen tower “was destroyed by a winter storm in December 2000” and replaced before the 2001 season.

The Midway Twin converted to digital projection in 2013, as documented by the Kent Record-Courier. “It’s good to keep something like this going because with less than 400 nationwide, it’s kind of an elite status to be involved in something like this,” said general manager Mike Marxen.

Earlier this year when Disney demanded higher fees and other concessions from drive-ins that wanted to show Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Knepp joined a loose coalition of regional theaters that refused to show it.

The embedded YouTube video of the day is from my pal Jeffrey Edling. He’s got a thing about going to drive-ins and recording a gentle 360-degree sweep to show exactly what it was like. I hope you like it.

The drive-in closed for the season in October, and I’m glad it’s in such great shape to return next spring.

Miles Today / Total: 29 / 39136 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 200

Nearby Restaurant: Since I was staying near the Kent State campus (see below), I looked for lunch there too. I found what I was looking for at the Main Street Continental Grill. It’s a little Greek hole in the wall, but I found the spinach and meat pies to be very interesting. One shish kabob sandwich later, I knew why so many locals were grabbing their takeout orders here.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Google told me the closest hotel was on the other side of the midway point at the Kent State University Hotel. It was a little pricey, but since it’s in the middle of the Kent State area, I’ll bet it’s an especially good choice for college visitors. My king studio had all the modern amenities, and breakfast gave me what I needed to face another cold day.

Only in Ravenna Kent: Kent State has come to terms with its signature event. On May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of unarmed Vietnam War protesters, killing four and wounding nine others. The May 4th Visitor Center provides a memorial to the victims and presents the context of the shooting’s times.

Next stop: Skyway Twin Drive-In Theatre, Warren OH.