We lost a local icon.
The screens at the drive-in movie theatre caught on fire.
It seems that virtually everyone in this city of nearly 400,000 - more if you count the suburbs - has a memory of that theatre. If you have ever seen The Outsiders, then you have a memory of it, too. The movie included a few actors who were just starting out in the early 1980's: Patrick Swayze, Matt Dillon, Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, and Emilio Estevez. Some of the scenes in the movie were shot at the drive-in. Locals got to play extras in the movie, and one lucky friend got the role of the cashier in the concession stand. (He worked for the national chain that owned the drive-in at the time. Most of the owners in the drive-in's history have been local.)
The drive-in opened on the old Route 66 in 1951 as a single-screen, and its popularity soon led to the addition of a second screen, directly behind the first. Those screens were constructed of wood, and were 9 stories high, placing them among the largest screens in the country. Because the massive structure was wooden, it was uninsurable. With an estimated cost of $300,000 for modern screens (built out of metal instead of wood), the owners initially expressed some skepticism about rebuilding, but the community has rallied to the cause with individuals and businesses already helping with clean-up and donations. Within 48 hours of the fire, a Facebook page had earned nearly 20,000 "Likes" from people taking up the cause of this local landmark. T-shirts featuring the theatre are already on the market and at least one benefit concert is in the works.
The last time I went to that particular drive-in was about 30 years ago. I don't remember that movie either, but I do remember the experience. And that's really what differentiates drive-ins from indoor theatres, or from watching a movie at home. It's an experience like no other. Unfortunately, it's an experience that fewer and fewer people will get to enjoy, as more and more drive-ins fall by the wayside. But with the clear support of the community, the owners' original skepticism about rebuilding this particular drive-in has quickly been replaced with excitement and enthusiasm for the project. They're hoping that new screens could be in place by May, making many more summer seasons possible, and allowing new generations to create their own memories of going to the drive-in.
As for this year, the fire caused the theatre to close just a little bit earlier than planned. The last show for this year was scheduled for next weekend. What movie would have closed the season?
Until next time,
Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. ~ Galatians 6:2