November 25, 2014

Medina
Partly cloudy
37°F

County’s last drive-in theater asks for customers’ help

The county’s last drive-in theater is turning to the Internet to avoid going the way of jukeboxes and poodle skirts.

The owner is asking people to participate in an online contest sponsored by Honda Motors to win a digital projection system needed to show new movies.

“When Hollywood will stop making 35-millimeter is anyone’s guess, but everyone assumes this will be the last season for it,” Blue Sky general manager Jeff Davis said.

The Blue Sky in Wadsworth, Medina County’s last drive-in theater, needs a new digital projection system that will help keep it in business. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY DAN POMPILI)

The theater has been operating with the standard film reels since it opened in 1947, but Davis said getting movie reels has become more difficult.

“Before, we could book a print on Monday for Friday, but now we have to try to book well in advance because availability is much more limited,” he said.

While some theaters, including North Ridgeville’s Aut-O Rama Twin Drive-In and Barberton’s Magic City Drive-In, which also is operated by Blue Sky owner Gary Greive, have been able to finance the expensive system, most theaters need help.

Davis said a digital projection system would cost $75,000 to $80,000.

That’s where Honda comes in.

Honda’s Project Drive-In contest already has provided digital projection systems to five drive-ins across the country.

The contest lets drive-in aficionados vote for one of several theaters by text message and online. The drive-in with the most votes gets the new system.

The original deadline was Sept. 9 to award five projectors to theaters in Saco, Maine; Honor, Mich.; Graham, Texas; McHenry, Ill.; and Newberg, Ore.

But because of additional donations, Honda extended the deadline to Saturday and expanded the contest to include Wadsworth’s drive-in.

The Blue Sky is in competition with the Lynn Auto Theatre in Strasburg; the Pioneer Drive-In in Butler, Pa.; and the Twin Hi-Way in Pittsburgh. The winner will be announced Monday.

Even if Blue Sky wins a projector system, more investment will be needed, Davis said.

The technology will require a $10,000 upgrade to the projection booth, including insulation and air conditioning.

Outdoor movie theaters are fast disappearing. At their peak, there were more than 4,000 drive-in theaters nationwide. But now the number is fewer than 400.

In Ohio, 242 drive-ins have closed leaving only 28 still in operation, according to the website Drive-ins.com.

The Greater Cleveland-Akron area used to have more than 20 drive-ins. In Medina County, Wadsworth’s Sky Drive-In, Brunswick’s 42 Drive-In and Spencerville’s Midway are gone, along with four theaters in Akron, seven in Cleveland and others in Copley Township, Lorain, Elyria, Rittman and Barberton.

Supporters of Wadsworth’s Blue Sky Drive-In can vote by texting “Vote53” to 444999 or online at www.projectdrivein.com/#vote_53.

Voters can vote one time by each method daily through Saturday.

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.