Hyde Park Drive-In up for lease

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.

Video: Check out the Chama drive-in

Roger Hogan’s drone view of the Chama Drive-In from 2018

Sometimes I don’t need a good excuse to share a video. But I’ve got one anyway. I’m finishing my next book, Drive-Ins of New Mexico, which is how I found out about the one in little Chama there.

Back in 1996, Albuquerque Journal writer Toby Smith had a story about the state’s old drive-ins. He included a sidebar where he mentioned most of them. “One drive-in, in Chama,” he wrote, “called itself Kelly’s, after the resident who owned it”. I was amazed, because that drive-in never showed up on any of the industry lists.

Digging into my reference works, I found out that Michael Kelly returned from serving in World War II and soon began running the indoor Rainbow Theatre in Chama. A few years later (this video says 1960), he built a small drive-in south of town. I only have access to scattered local newspapers, but I know that the Rainbow Drive-In advertised in June 1968. When Kelly died in 1978, Boxoffice remembered him as the operator of the Rainbow Theatre and the Chama Drive-In. So I’m not sure what to call this drive-in.

The story got better. A few years ago, a local group called Elevate Chama started hosting movies and other events on the old drive-in grounds. If they run enough of them, I ought to add the Chama drive-in to the Carload active list. Hmmm.

Anyway, I also found this drone’s-eye view of Chama’s drive-in, posted five years ago on YouTube by Roger Hogan, aka Wacky Roger. It’s been too long since I posted a good drone video, so here you go. I’ll let you know when the book is available.

KY’s Franklin announces closure

Classic cars lined up at the Franklin Drive-In Theater
2013 photo from the Franklin Drive-In Facebook page

Trivia that was accurate as of last week: Of the (about) 311 active US drive-ins, four of them are located by the city or town of Franklin in four different states. The first three are the Milky Way Drive-In in Wisconsin, Warner’s Drive-In in West Virginia, and Canary Creek Cinemas in Indiana.

Today, those are the only three. On Monday, the owners of the Franklin Drive-In in Kentucky announced that they had sold the place, and that it would no longer operate as a drive-in theater. There were several local news organizations reporting the story, but I don’t think any of them had any more to work with than the Franklin’s original Facebook post. WBKO, Bowling Green’s News Leader, posted a video anyway of mostly file footage, which is better than nothing.

Of course, I virtually visited the Franklin in 2017 during my 2017 Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. As I wrote then, the drive-in was a literal stone’s throw from Tennessee and less than 40 miles away from Nashville. The Franklin was family owned and operated since 1969, most recently by the Prices and their families. It began its life as the 31W or 31 West Drive-In, since that’s the highway that it’s on, and changed its name to the Franklin some time after the demise of the original Franklin Drive-In, which operated on Russellville Road from 1960 until some time around 1980.

The closure announcement noted that the Franklin “has been in our family for 33 years and we bought it from the original family who built it.” The owners blamed traffic (huh?), light pollution, and the rise of streaming services for their decision. I always thought that traffic was a good thing, with more motorists seeing your marquee, but light is definitely an issue in a lot of places. Since the dawn of television, it’s always been the main opponent for theaters in general; the solution is to provide an experience you can’t get at home.

But it’s always possible that the Franklin’s owners just got a nice retirement-funding purchase offer and took it. It’s just a shame that they couldn’t find someone else ready to keep the movie nights going.