Abandoned Vermont: St. Albans Drive-in Theater (R.I.P)

presphotos134

St. Albans Drive-in Movie Theater, as seen in May 2012. 

As of the 2012 photograph of the St. Albans Drive-in Theater, it was not abandoned. It was still open and operating, one of Vermont’s four remaining drive-in movie theaters.  As of 2014, the drive-in closed after 66 years of business, partially due to costs required to upgrade to the mandated digital projection from film reels. As of 2014, the land was for sale, and still is. Such is the fate of many drive-in theaters, especially on valuable land.

Because I’m a sentimental nostalgic fool for roadside America and Vermont, I wanted to photograph the St. Albans Drive-in Theater one more time, before it disappeared. On a cold, windy, February day, I said my goodbyes to this bit of roadside America.

DSCN2245

View from across US Route 7. Not as cheery as the 2012 view. February 2016. 


DSCN2215

Entrance & ticket booth to the drive-in. Still lined with lights. February 2016. 


DSCN2216

The speakers at the St. Ablans Drive-in theater were removed years ago. Instead, viewers tuned into the radio station. February 2016. 


DSCN2217

Ticket booth. February 2016. 


DSCN2242

No admission charge today. February 2016. 


DSCN2218

The screen is in disrepair and new traffic lights are in place for the development across the road. February 2016. 


DSCN2220

Stepping back you can vaguely see the remaining mounds in the earth for the cars to park. February 2016. 


DSCN2223

The snack bar (right) and the movie projection room (left). Note the chain protecting the projection. Windows are all broken. February 2016. 


DSCN2224

View of the playground and the dilapidated screen. February 2016. 


DSCN2225

The playground (swingset) remains intact, if not jumping out of the ground with its concrete foundation. Slide, two swings, rings, trapeze, bar, and see-saw. February 2016. 


DSCN2234

Beneath the screen looking into the drive-in. February 2016. 


DSCN2226

Pieces of the screen have fallen to the ground. February 2016. 


DSCN2229

Possibly from up there. February 2016. 


DSCN2231

The back of the screen. February 2016. 


DSCN2233

Some drive-in screens have their structures concealed. This one is out in the open, nothing too fancy. With high winds, the structure has to be sturdy. February 2016. 


DSCN2235

From the entrance road. February 2016. the marquee is barely visible, but you can see it to the right of the screen supports. February 2016. 

I can’t say for certain, but I would bet that one factor in the closure of the St. Albans drive-in is the construction and opening of this across the street:

As seen from the Walmart entrance road. February 2016.

With its October 2013 opening, I shared my lament.

Here is a great article from the St. Albans Messenger that highlights history and memories of the drive-in.

RIP St. Albans Drive-in. You’ll be missed by many.

What is Commercial Archeology?

Today’s post is a guest post from Raina Regan (also a repost from her blog). Raina is on the board of the Society for Commercial Archeology and often finds herself answering the question: “What is Commercial Archeology?”  Short answer: it’s not just archeology! Read on, and Raina will answer all of your questions and share how she got involved with the SCA. 

Starlite Drive In sign credit Raina Regan

Starlite Drive-in Theater, Bloomington, IN. Photo by Raina Regan. 

by Raina Regan

When I mention I’m currently on the board of directors for the Society for Commercial Archeology, I often get a lot of blank stares or questioning glances. “What exactly is Commercial Archeology?” they might ask.

A formal definition from the Dictionary of Building Preservation (1996) defines commercial archaeology as:

The study of artifacts, structures, signs, and symbols of the American commercial process; includes both mass-produced and vernacular forms of the machine age: transportation facilities, such as highways and bus stations; roadside development, such as diners, strip retail, and neon signs; business district buildings, such as movie theaters and department stores; and recreation facilities, such as amusement parks.

What do I define as commercial archeology? In short, structures and objects of the commercial landscape. We traditionally look at items starting in the 20th century, including neon signs, diners, theaters, and more.

Oasis Diner plainfield indiana raina regan

Oasis Diner, Plainfield, IN. Photo by Raina Regan. 

I’m not really sure how my passion for commercial archeology developed. I’ve always thought I should’ve lived during the 1950s because of my love of diners, seeing movies at drive-in theaters, and ranch houses. Since high school, architecture and history from the 20th century appealed to me the most and my interest in commercial archeology is a natural outreach of this.

My real beginnings with commercial archeology in my preservation career started in 2008. When I attended the National Preservation Conference in Tulsa, OK, I participated in a day-long field session on Route 66. We traveled a section of the historic road, with drive bys of former filling stations and repair shops. We stopped at several icons along the way, but two structures specifically inspired me as a preservationist and historian of commercial archeology.

rock cafe

The Rock Cafe, Stroud, OK, undergoing rehabilitation following the fire. Photo by Raina Regan. 

The Rock Cafe in Stroud, OK was recovering from a devastating fire at the time of our visit. But meeting with the cafe’s owner, Dawn Welch, was particularly inspiring. She told us stories about the Cafe and her passion for the road was evident. She was the basis for the animated character Sally Carrera in Cars, one of my favorite preservation-related movies. I know they reopened in 2009 and would love to go back for a visit.

Route 66 - Bridge #18 at Rock Creek, Sapulpa

Bridge 18, Rock Creek, Sapulpa, OK. Photo by Raina Regan. 

One of our first stops was at Bridge #18 at Rock Creek, Sapulpa, Oklahoma. Constructed in 1924 on the original Route 66 alignment, it is a Parker through truss and is still open to traffic on the historic Route 66. Seeing the original brick road was inspiring as a historian, allowing me to connect with all the travelers that had once traversed this bridge.

Wishing Well Motel Franklin Indiana

Wishing Well Motel, Franklin, IN, off US 31. Photo by Raina Regan. 

What makes commercial archeology special? From a preservation point of view, I see commercial archeology as accessible to everyone. The nostalgia factor of commercial archeology means everyone can connect to these resources in some way. These are places in our every day life that we grow to love, and as they age and gain historic significance, they become a cultural icon. Many spots are located on highways or other roads, which means they become well-known and idolized within our communities.

ski-hi drive-in

Ski-Hi Drive-in, Muncie, IN. Photo by Raina Regan. 

Structures such as diners, motels, gas stations, and theaters are ideal for continued use or adaptive reuse. However, commercial archeology mainstays including drive-in theaters, amusement parks, and neon signs may present more difficult challenges for preservation. For example, the Ski-Hi Drive In outside Muncie, Indiana is slated for demolition. Although the 1952 drive-in theater is a local icon and has strong local support for its preservation, it is located at the crossroads of IN-3 and SR 28 in rural Delaware County. Raising the money needed to return the site back to a drive-in is difficult, while there are not many adaptive use options for such a site. I attribute the strong local support for its preservation because of nostalgia and strong personal connection many have to the site.

As a board member of the Society for Commercial Archeology, I try to advocate for the preservation of these resources whenever possible. As preservationists, we should use these resources as ways to connect preservation to a broader audience.

Rocky Point Drive-in Theater

A follow up to Preservation Photos #120.

Long Island had many drive-in theaters in the 1960s-1970s. The suburban setting and still vast amount of land available was perfect for drive-ins. The Rocky Point Drive-in opened in 1961 with capacity for 750 cars, a modern snack bar, speakers for the cars and a playground for the kids. The spaces for cars were on an angle, so the front of each car would be raised a bit for better viewing. It closed in 1988 and remained empty into the 1990s. After closing as a drive-in, the Rocky Point property reopened as a golf driving range; however, that didn’t last long. You can see in these photographs that the driving range used the existing sign.

Drive-in opening from the Port Jefferson Record in 1961. Found via New York Drive-ins. Click for source and to see additional advertisements.

As a kid, I always found the Rocky Point marquee fascinating; to me it was something tangible of my mother’s childhood, and helped me to imagine what Long Island was like for her. It is a unique relic for Long Island, one left alone among the intensive development. Beyond that marquee, my mother’s stories and the movie Grease, I didn’t have any connections to drive-in theaters. As we know, drive-ins today are few and far between. I don’t think I ever saw one in operation until I lived in Virginia (and my friends and I had to make a trek to find that one).

The marquee for the Rocky Point Drive-in on Long Island has been slowly deteriorating throughout my entire life. For years I  have wanted to stop and photograph the sign, hoping to capture a bit of roadside Long Island before it was too late. Finally, I found the time to do so.

View of the Rocky Point Drive-in marquee on the westbound side (looking east) of Route 25A.

Looking to the former drive-in property.

The abandoned driving range.

Drive-ins existed on Long Island throughout the 1950s-1970s, with many closing in the late ’70s and ’80s; few lasted into the ’90s.  The Westbury Drive-in was the last operating drive-in on Long Island; it closed in 1998 after a long fight. Aside from the lure of indoor theaters, drive-ins closed mostly due to pressures of real estate prices; once closed and demolished, the land became more profitable shopping malls and hotels.

Over the years, "Rocky Point Driving Range" has fallen off to reveal the "Drive-in" sign beneath it.

Side profile of the marquee.

"Rocky Point" covered "Drive-in".

View looking west.

What will happen in this location? There has been talk of big box stores wanting this land for decades. Fortunately, the citizens of Rocky Point are opposed. A Facebook group  is hoping to garner support to reopen the drive-in. Who knows? Maybe it will become  a park and leave some green space on Route 25A.  I’m glad I finally took those pictures.

Preservation Photos #120

The marquee of the long abandoned Rocky Point Drive-in Theater in Rocky Point, NY.

More photos and history coming in another post, later today.

St. Albans Drive-in Theatre

Need something fun to do on a summer weekend night? How about a drive-in movie theater? There are so few remaining in the country so we need to support them whenever possible. Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly a blockbuster type summer for movies. I haven’t wanted to see anything. You? I wish drive-ins would have weekends of classic movies on the big screen. That would add another layer of uniqueness to drive-ins.

Surprisingly, Vermont has four operating drive-ins; they are located in Colchester, Fairlee, Bethel and St. Albans. So far, I’ve only been the Sunset Drive-in in Colchester, chronicled here. Now, I’m waiting for a good movie; however, I stopped at the St. Albans Drive-in on Route 7 in order to take some daylight pictures.

The ticket booth and entrance to the drive-in. Interestingly, this one is not fenced in any manner. The entrance road is lined with lights (seen above - blue pole).

The snack bar building and project building, set behind the rows of cars. Note that this drive-in no longer has speakers; you tune in on your radio.

The massive screen.

The marquee displays what was showing - early July 2011.

The movie screen with a playground in front - classic drive-in set up.

Honestly, drive-ins and playgrounds are two of my favorite things. And I'd bet this is the original playground.

Another shot of the playground.

One of the swings.

Check out those metal rings.

Steps on the slide. I wanted to see if this was the same manufacturer as the playground at the Sunset Drive-in. It is not, but I still love the advertising in the slide ladder.

If you come across a drive-in with interesting features, please share. Happy weekend! Happy drive-in visiting!

US Route 11 in Abingdon

U.S. Highways, more aptly those referred to as US Route ___, often serve as windows to the roadside from a few decades ago. Many U.S. highways existed before the interstate system, and at that time, everything a traveler needed could be found next to the highway rather than at an exit. Highways rolled through towns and cities, not around them like interstates do. While towns have been bypassed and land adjacent to highways developed, certain US Routes still provide an excellent showcase of good old Roadside America architecture and businesses. US Route 11 is such an example, and when I visited Elyse in Abingdon, VA a few months ago, she took me on a driving tour of the roadside architecture highlights in the area. It was a rainy weekend, but that didn’t take away from the roadside entertainment. Here’s a photograph roadside tour with comments:

The Moonlite Drive-in Theater in Abingdon

The Moonlite Drive-in Theater in Abingdon

Moonlite marquee

Moonlite marquee

The theater is still in operation - I just visited out of season.

The theater is still in operation - I just visited out of season.

The Hi-Lo Burgers & Shakes, still operating. It is a drive up window.

The Hi-Lo Burgers & Shakes, still operating. It is a drive up window.

Hi-Lo is raising money in order to restore the neon sign.

Hi-Lo is raising money in order to restore the neon sign.

Further south, closer to Bristol, the Evergreen Motor Court, still open.

Further south, closer to Bristol, the Evergreen Motor Court, still open.

Across the street from the Evergreen, the Robert E Lee Motel is abandoned. There were some neat glass block windows visible.

Across the street from the Evergreen, the Robert E Lee Motel is abandoned. There were some neat glass block windows visible.

This is not historic, but I had to laugh. I'd never heard of Pal's. As it turns out, the restaurant chain dates to the 1950s and this particular building idea, 1985. Check out the Pal's timeline http://www.palsweb.com/timeline.htm

This is not historic, but I had to laugh. I'd never heard of Pal's. As it turns out, the restaurant chain dates to 1956 and this particular building idea, 1985. Check out the Pal's timeline http://www.palsweb.com/timeline.htm

Not on US 11, but near Bristol, TN is the world' largest guitar and museum. The museum was closed when Elyse and I stopped to visit. The guitar strings definitely needed to be tightened, but regardless it was fun to see!

Not on US 11, but near Bristol, TN is the world' s only guitar shaped museum. The museum was closed when Elyse and I stopped to visit. The guitar strings definitely needed to be tightened, but regardless it was fun to see!

For sunny Route 11 photographs, check out this group on Flickr.