Ohio Sunset screen goes down

Ghoulish? Maybe. In an April full of stories about drive-ins reopening for another season, I’m relaying one about the final day of a retired screen.

The Sunset Drive-In in Ontario OH closed in 2015, and Joe Lykins bought the property in 2019. Lykins disassembles old barns and uses their vintage wood to build new structures, and he needed room to work. According to the Mansfield News Journal, Lykins recently needed to add a retaining pool to the property, and that meant the screen had to go. The newspaper captured a fine video of the screen-toppling last week.

In the accompanying news story, Lykins said the drive-in wasn’t economically viable. He tried to give away the screen, but had no takers. “People are going to hate me,” he said.

According to Cinema Treasures, the drive-in opened in 1947 as the Mansfield-Galion. It was renamed the Sunset before the 1953 season. It persisted as a family-owned business until the movie studios’ digital imperative required theaters to buy expensive new projectors or close. The Sunset chose to go dark when film ran out.

There are more details and photos about this somber story at the News Journal site. If you’d like to know more, go read it!

“Drive-Ins of New Mexico” now available

When I took this photo 10 years ago, I had no idea it that I’d later use it in a book cover.

Everywhere I look, I see stories of drive-in theaters reopening for the spring season. That’s great, much better than the alternative, but I haven’t found any nice video tributes or otherwise interesting angles to post about here. So I’ll tell you the story of my latest book, which seems to be available for everyone but me.

(By the way, you can get more information about all of my books, including updates and links to some great photos that I couldn’t use, right here on Carload. Just click Books in the menu.)

Drive-Ins of New Mexico is a little different than my last two books. First of all, the epub edition is absolutely free, equipped with a Creative Commons license so anyone can download it and share it with friends, non-commercially. That version doesn’t include the dozens of illustrations that are in the print book, but everything else is there. Feel free to take a look and see whether you enjoy those bite-sized theater histories.

This New Mexico book is also designed to be sort of incomplete. I could have waited until I spent more time researching and reaching out to other historians in the state, but this way everyone can see what I know so far about all of those drive-ins. The epub edition should be easier to update when new information comes in.

But the epub isn’t enough. Some New Mexico contributors have been so generous with their time and effort that I needed to be able to send them a physical version of the book. My mom wants one too. So I spent a week quickly grabbing the images I’d accumulated and placing them like chocolate chips to add some visual flavor to the pages. Very few of those photos and clippings were in color, so I printed the book with greyscale images. That helped me keep the cost down.

Here’s what Drive-Ins of New Mexico was going to look like until the last-minute change

The book’s cover was going to use John Margolies’ excellent photo of Albuquerque’s Cactus Drive-In, taken about four years after it closed. It’s a great photo, and the Cactus was the state’s first large drive-in theater, but I was glad to switch to an alternative. At the last minute, the owner of the Fort Union Drive In Movie Theatre in Las Vegas NM gave me the okay to use my old photo of that drive-in for the cover. I always prefer to promote active drive-ins, even though my books are at least 90% full of closed drive-ins.

After a few rounds of proofs, I ordered a box of author’s copies of the box from Amazon. (I also use IngramSpark as a printer, and for bookstores that don’t like dealing with Amazon.) That box was listed as “Out for Delivery” a couple of weeks ago, but as I type, I still haven’t seen it. Heaven knows whatever happened to those books; Amazon considers them lost. I’ve ordered more from both of these printers, but I haven’t been able to send along copies to my contributors because I don’t have them yet.

So you, dear reader, can feel free to download the free epub, buy a physical copy from Amazon, or both. If you are one of those wonderful people who helped so much in making this book a reality, I’ll be mailing you a copy soon, I hope.

Route 66 icon Tee Pee to reopen

Aerial drone view of the Tee Pee Drive-In viewing field with the screen in the background.
The extra-clean, newborn Tee Pee. Screen capture of a KJRH news video on YouTube

Joni Rogers-Kante grew up going to the Tee-Pee Drive-In just west of Sapulpa OK. The drive-in, sometimes spelled “Teepee,” lived a good long life from 1950 into the 1980s, then went dark off and on until its final shows in 1999.

Meanwhile, Rogers-Kante founded SeneGence USA. A few years ago, she got the idea of bringing Sapulpa’s drive-in back to life, and after many months of work, it’s ready to hold its grand opening on April 15. There’s a nice video about those plans on YouTube; too bad I couldn’t embed it for you here.

Technically, the Tee Pee sort of reopened last October, according to a story in the Tulsa World. It wasn’t quite finished, but it had enough together to show a couple of Halloween-themed films.

The screen was always in decent shape, though it looks better than ever now. The real trick to reopening the Tee Pee, in my opinion, was finding a way to overcome its traffic issue. Just a couple of years ago, there were two ways to reach the drive-in. You could loop around to the west and return east over a couple of twisty, slow miles of the original Route 66, now Ozark Trail. Or you could find a way across the 99-year-old Rock Creek Bridge, which recently reopened as a one-lane, 4-ton-rated bottleneck. (A third path might be to cut through the back of the VFW Hall’s parking lot.)

The Tee Pee’s owners neated sliced through that Gordian knot. They got a new road built to cover the one block from the current 66 to Ozark Trail, curling around the back of the viewing field. I’m a little chagrined that I never considered that elegant solution.

If you want to read more about the Tee Pee’s long history, pick up a copy of my book, Drive-Ins of Route 66, preferably the second edition, which had more photos and was correct more often. Just be sure to cross out the line that says “Closed: 1999”.