Shankweiler’s Is For Sale

The oldest active drive-in theater, probably the second commercial drive-in ever, is for sale. Owners Paul and Susan Geissinger say the asking price for Shankweiler’s Drive-In Theatre is $1.2 million. The Orefield PA landmark is in great shape by all accounts, but the Geissingers want to retire.

I was virtually there less than a month ago during the final week of my 2017 Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey, so its history is fresh on my mind. You can read more in that post, but the most relevant part is that the Geissingers bought the place around 1984 and have been running it ever since.

The Morning Call of Allentown wrote that the couple “actually put the property up for sale in 2015, but it was relisted last week after their real estate agent joined a new company, Paul Geissinger said Wednesday.” They want to clear enough to retire comfortably, and although they’d prefer that the drive-in would stay open, they’ll sell to the highest bidder. The current plan is for a normal operating season in 2018. I’ve embedded a YouTube video of an interview with Paul Geissinger posted just a few months ago.

The Morning Call wrote, “The Geissingers have received a few offers, Paul said, but not at the price he was looking for.” Whenever I read about any real estate that has taken longer to move than the sellers wanted, I hear the voice of the old radio financial advisor Bruce Williams in my head. Assuming that you have sufficiently publicized your listing, he would say, the market is telling you that your price is too high. You may think that you need to get X dollars from the sale, or insist that you’ve invested Y dollars into the property, but none of that matters to the buyer. Regardless of other factors, anything is worth only what a customer is willing and able to pay for it. I hope that all drive-in owners with current listings and future sales take that to heart so these great institutions can stay in operation.

Dec. 31: Haar’s Drive-In Theatre, Dillsburg PA

It’s Day 365 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It took less than a half hour to drive from the Cumberland Drive-In Theatre southeast of Newville PA to Haar’s Drive-In Theatre in Dillsburg PA.

The first inkling of the drive-in was in October 1952 when the National Production Authority allocated Vance W. Haar sufficient copper to build his drive-in. At the time, he said would cover 10 acres, hold 500 cars (with a possible later expansion to 1000), cost $41,200, and open the following spring.

The next mention was a March 24, 1953 ad for the annual Clean Sweep Sale at Haar’s Auction House. It said, “Don’t miss the Grand Opening of Haar’s new drive-in theatre, Friday, May 1st”.

The Gettysburg Times of June 10 had a note that Haar’s would have its grand opening on June 18. Haar now said that the drive-in cost “about $100,000” to build. This time the projected date was accurate, as proven by a grand opening ad that day. Billboard magazine belatedly noted on August 8 that the “520-car capacity” drive-in was now open.

Vance Haar passed away in 1973, and one of his sons, Boyd Haar, died in 1986. In its annual roundups from 1991 through 1998, The Sentinel of Carlisle wrote that Haar’s was owned by George Haar, brother Elwood Haar and sister Claribel Lecrone.

In 1999, The Philadelphia Inquirer had a fun article pointing out that residents of the neighboring townhouses and apartments effectively have a free season pass to Haar’s. “And there’s that funny echo that sometimes sours the sound coming from 500 little car-mounted speakers – especially when the lot has empty spaces.” The article said Elwood ran the theater with siblings George and Claribel, and personally hand-peeled up to 1000 pounds of potatoes per week for his French fries. “You’ve got to love it to do this,” he said.

In 2003, Haar’s opener was postponed a few weeks because of problems with the septic system. A Sentinel article that spring said that Vickie Hardy, Vance’s granddaughter, was company president. According to Haar’s About Us page, the transition had taken place on March 1 that year.

In June 2009, the York Daily Record reported that there were rumors that Haar’s would close. Hardy said that the ownership group had committed to keeping the drive-in open for that year. “After that, the group plans to chat again, Hardy said.”

The Dillsburg Banner celebrated Haar’s 60th season in 2012. At that point, Elwood was still running the projector but the spokesperson was Hardy, “current owner of the drive-in with her husband, Doug, her sister, Connie Darbrow, her sister’s husband, Al, and her cousin, Sandra Haar.” Haar’s converted to digital projection that year, as I wrote that May.

In early 2016, the owners determined that the original screen could not be repaired, so they had it torn down. Soon after was a bit of excitement when the debris caught fire, but that didn’t stop a new screen from going up. “We are looking forward to many years of showing fabulous movies under the stars,” Hardy told Lancaster Online.

The embedded video of the day is from WPMT, Harrisburg’s News Leader, celebrating the new screen that went up in July 2016.

Miles Today / Total: 22 / 40160 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 200

Nearby Restaurant: Pakha’s Thai House was not the kind of restaurant I was expecting to find in Dillsburg. It’s thoroughly Thai from its cuisine to its decor. For dinner, I enjoyed the cinnamon chicken with a side of seafood soup. All of these spices should help keep me healthy for the new year.

Where I Virtually Stayed: If you want to stay in Dillsburg, you’re going to need to stay at the Rodeway Inn. It’s humble, it’s not that bad, and it’s quite inexpensive. My room had a couple of double beds and all the modern amenities. There was coffee at check-in, coffee in the morning, and plenty of cash left in my pocket for breakfast at Wolfe’s Diner.

Only in Dillsburg: Every* New Year’s Eve in Dillsburg, hundreds gather downtown to experience the world-famous Pickle Drop. At midnight, a six-foot-tall pickle drops from the local fire department’s ladder truck into a pickle barrel and fireworks go off. Prior to the drop, they have live entertainment, children’s activities, themed refreshments like pickle soup and fried pickles, and ice sculpting on the square. *-Except this year because of forecast single-digit temperatures outside and no heat in Dillsburg Elementary School where some of the events are held.

Next stop: 2018.

Dec. 30: Cumberland Drive-In Theatre, Newville PA

It’s Day 364 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Thanks to some very twisty highways, it took well over an hour to drive the 45 miles from the Midway Drive-In Theater in Mifflintown PA to the Cumberland Drive-In Theatre southeast of Newville PA.

The Cumberland has one of the nicest, most thorough Wikipedia pages that I’ve ever seen for a drive-in theater. You can go read that if you want the more recent play-by-play of its successful switch to digital conversion. Instead, I prefer to write about its origins, which were quite a drama.

The Valley Times-Star of Newville printed a front page story on March 26, 1952 about Donn Mowery, 28, whose indoor Newville Theatre had been totalled by a fire two weeks earlier. (Reportedly, the fire started when a floodlight touched an “inflammable” theatre curtain before a show. Fortunately, it occurred while the theater was mostly empty, so no one was injured.) Citing competition from the local Home Owners association’s subsequent decision to show movies in Memorial Hall, Mowery said that after the insurance appraisal was completed, he’d level the ruins and start building a drive-in theatre instead. The article also mentioned “remarks from L. O. Mowery (Levi, Donn’s father) to the borough council prior to the fire that the movie was losing money”, which was why the association didn’t expect the old indoor theater to be rebuilt.

In the April 2 issue, the Times-Star said that Mowery had purchased 12 acres from farmer Robert Mains, who had “rejected a number of offers in recent years for the site.” The planned drive-in would hold about 500 cars and open by July 4. Mowery later said there would be “seats for those who could not sit comfortably in their cars” if he could overcome material shortages. Still later, he said the drive-in would cost $80,000 to build, and construction began on May 21.

On July 9, Mowery announced that the drive-in, now named the Cumberland, would open on Friday, July 25, delayed because of rain. Two weeks later, he announced a postponement to August 1 due to flooding from a storm. With “several thousand dollars” of cost overruns and space for 550 cars and 60 chairs, that’s when it opened, showing Annie Get Your Gun. Perhaps because of its late start, the Cumberland stayed open through Nov. 29 that year.

An April 2003 article in The Sentinel of Carlisle PA interviewed Jay Mowery, Donn’s youngest son who ran the drive-in “along with his three brothers”. Jay said that his father was still “proprietor of the company” more than 50 years after its start. The article said that the family had leased out the drive-in in the early 1990s, then discovered they missed it. With family friend J. B. McNichol, they restored and revived the place.

Jay Mowery told The Sentinel in 2003 that he expected the Cumberland would one day be run by a third generation of Mowerys, but he didn’t seem eager to leave. “There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing,” he said. “You can’t really explain it. When the moon comes up behind the screen tower, that’s an experience that you can’t get anywhere else.”

Indeed, Jay was still there in April 2017 for an article in The Sentinel about the Cumberland’s 65th anniversary. It said that the original concession / projection / rest room building was still there too. Since it’s surrounded by preserved farms that can’t be developed, this drive-in should stay around for decades to come.

The embedded video of the day is from WPMT, Harrisburg’s News Leader, as an excited correspondent sees what a drive-in movie looks like when it’s projected during the day.

Miles Today / Total: 45 / 40138 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 200

Nearby Restaurant: The Cumberland is in the middle of so much protected farmland that, unless you count gas station convenience stores, the closest restaurants are in Carlisle. On a cold day with a closed (for the season) drive-in, I’m happy to see the word Diner. The Walnut Bottom Diner is open all day long, including breakfast all day, so it’s probably always worth a visit. I enjoyed some great biscuits and gravy with plenty of coffee to steel myself against the weather outside.

Where I Virtually Stayed: The closest hotels to the Cumberland are in Carlisle, and one of those is a Hampton Inn. For my penultimate odyssey night, I wanted my favorite chain. There were cookies and coffee waiting at check-in. My clean, comfortable room had all the modern amenities. Breakfast in the morning was the usual, high Hampton standard. I’m almost going to miss it when I’m sleeping in my own bed again next week.

Only in Newville: Once again Roadside America points to the most interesting sight, just a few miles west of the drive-in in Shippensburg. Tiny World is a city of four-feet high buildings made for and occupied by four-footed residents – cats. They were the work of retiree Ernest Helm. His reason for building Tiny World: “It was something to do.” Helm passed away in 2015, but Tiny World is still operating and looks especially nice when its buildings get colorful lights at Christmastime.

Next Last stop: Haar’s Drive-In Theatre, Dillsburg PA.