The Skyborn Cruise-In opened on May 17, 1950 on Haddix Road at Route 235. The grand opening ad for the new Skyborn invited patrons to visit the “Sparking White snack bar”. Bubble gum and suckers were being given away to ‘kiddies’ under twelve, and bottle warmer service was available to warm junior’s formula.
The following year the Skyborn opened a month earlier, in April. Since it could be quite cold that time of year, the Skyborn offered an incentive for their patrons to brave the weather.
“Here’s hot news for cold weather this season,” stated the ad for the theater. “Coupon for one gallon of gas so you can run your car heater and enjoy the show in comfort. Free gas coupon given at the box office when the temperature is 50 degrees or less.”
Unfortunately, Delber Kinsel, owner of the theater, had a problem. Ear shattering jets taking off from the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, located just across the highway, frequently drowned out the movie’s soundtrack. The Air Force did the best it could, but was not always able to reroute planes to another runway. So the 1350th Motion Picture Squadron on the base did the next best thing. They made a movie, starring Del Kinsel.
The short film was shown before the first feature. In it Kinsel explained to the patrons that the planes were doing a necessary job in guarding the safety of the country, and suggested that a turn of the volume control of the car speaker would enable the sound track to be heard above the jet roar.
Kinsel and the Air Force had hopes that the film would lead to better feelings towards them. The idea was considered for use throughout the country where the same types of difficulties might occur.
On August 3, 1957 Kinsel died in an automobile accident on U. S. Route 68. His wife, Mary, sold the theater the following spring to Sidney C. Brant & Associates of Cincinnati, for $110,000. The new company added another 350 car speakers to the 650 already in use, as well as installed a new snack bar and service facilities. The Skyborn was eventually bought by Chakeres Theaters.
By the late 1960’s the attendance at the drive-in had declined considerably.
“The Skyborn was Walt Disney all the way,” says Dennis Thatcher, who over the years worked his way from ramp boy to projectionist to relief manager at the Skyborn. “We would have, some nights, three cars, some nights four or five, but never, ever fill the lot. Weekends we’d have ten, twelve cars, maybe twenty. And this was all summer long.”
Dennis and the manager discussed whether to offer X-rated pictures to attract more people. Grant Frazee, general manager of Chakeres, was not inclined to show that type of movie, but he did relent and in 1969 the Skyborn featured an R-rated movie entitled ‘The Babysitter’.
“It packed the theater,” says Thatcher. “They put in an extra two rows of speakers because so many cars came. To see a black and white movie in the late 60’s. Can you believe it?”
A raid on June 19, 1989 by the Greene County sheriff’s office resulted in the seizing of three films that the Greene County prosecutor’s office believed to be obscene. A lawsuit was filed by the prosecutor’s office the next day, claiming that the drive-in was a public nuisance and violated Ohio law by disseminating matter harmful to juveniles. The case was settled out of court, after Chakeres agreed to no longer show X rated movies.
The Skyborn is still open and is a great place to go if you are ever in the Fairborn area. Much of the audience consists of families and couples that work and live in and around the Wright Patterson Air Force Base. The theater offers a number of good movies throughout the season, with the movie’s soundtrack coming to you over your radio. Check out this great drive-in this summer. You’ll be glad you did.
Sidebar comments in book about the Skyborn Cruise-In:
The Skyborn Drive-in is in very good shape for a theater that is now over a half century old. The marquee’s colors are used throughout the drive-in, the fence is painted a dark green and the concession stand is yellow. A sign of red letters points patrons in the right direction to the theater’s entrance.
Skyline Auto Theatre
The first drive-in theater to open in competition to Och’s Drive-In on Valley was the Skyline Auto Theatre on June 15, 1946. Located at 2615 South Dixie, the Skyline was built by Lou Wetzel at the bottom of an abandoned gravel pit. It handled about 450 cars and did quite well every night. Fortunately for Ochs, the Skyline was located far enough away that it didn’t affect his ticket sales.
The Skyline was also the first drive-in theater in the Dayton area to offer individual speakers for inside the car. Although RCA had invented the speakers in 1941, they did not mass produce them, since all nonessential industry was stopped during World War II, including the building of drive-ins. Many drive-ins built after the Skyline, like the Sherwood, still depended on the bullhorn system for the movie’s soundtrack. Installing individual speakers was expensive since it included burying the speaker wire and constructing speaker posts.
Lou Wetzel, along with Arthur Kemp, D. G. Chakiris, Robert Poorman and Orville King, perfected and patented an improved ‘in-a-car’ speaker for outdoor theaters in 1947. The speakers differed from others on the market in that they contained a ‘concession’ light. The light was activated by the patron by throwing a switch. It could be used to summon an attendant for food or, since this was before the days of individual volume controlled speakers, could be switched on to warn the projectionist that the sound was too high. It would also send a signal if someone attempted to steal the speaker.
“A drive-in theater will lose as many as twenty speakers a year,” claimed Wetzel. “Experiments were conducted over a period of eighteen months. We listened to complaints of the drive-in theater owners and then checked over our own ‘beefs’ as theater owners, operators and projectionists. We tested the speaker in steam baths, submerged in water, under heat and cold conditions and also subjected it to more abuse than it would be given in actual use.”
Unfortunately, when individually volume controlled speakers appeared on the market, the Dayton invention became obsolete.
The Skyline also became obsolete, closing in the fall of 1964.
Sidebar comments in book about the Skyline Auto Theatre:
Patrons of the Skyline could drive past the screen and up a hill that led to a ledge overlooking the theater. This ledge was known as the ‘balcony’.
Southland 75 Drive-In Theatre
Southland 75’s grand opening was on November 25, 1964. When Chakeres Theatres first purchased the twenty acres of land on Springfield Pike in Miami Township, most of the surrounding property was undeveloped.
“When we put Southland 75 out there (across from where the Dayton Mall now stands), we didn’t even have a marquee,” stated Grant Frazee, general manager of Chakeres Theatres, during an interview in 1987. “We didn’t need one because nobody ever went out that way unless they were going to the drive-in.”
The year-round theater was equipped with the latest in both 35 and 70 mm projectors, which showed movies on what was the largest outdoor picture screen in Ohio at the time. Measuring 130 feet across and 53 feet high, the screen was attached to a screen tower that reached seventy-five feet into the air. Built in Middletown, Ohio by the Armco Steel Corporation, the screen tower was shipped the theater in sections, built on the ground, then hoisted into position by three cranes. Over 130 yards of concrete were poured to provide anchorage for the thirty-ton structure.
Southland 75 was very successful. In 1978 Les Lambert, manager of the theater, stated that on a good night admissions could total 3,500 patrons.
“When you get all those spaces filled and the kids are playing down at the playground and all, this looks like a little town,” Lambert stated.
Business continued to grow and a second screen was added in the early 1980’s.
As time passed the value of the land grew as well. After the Dayton Mall was constructed, property values in the area soared. The twenty acres of land, originally purchased for $125,000 in 1964 was wroth over $2 million when it was sold in 1986. Southland 75’s final show was on July 13, 1986.
Kimco Corporation, owner/developer of several Hills Department stores, began developing the land the following year. Woolpert Consultants of Dayton prepared the engineering and architectural plans for the fifteen store shopping center, which was completed in the spring of 1987.
Sidebar comments in book about the Southland 75 Drive-In Theatre:
The Southland was a great place to hang out with your friends on a cool summer night.
As you entered the four lane entrance into the theater, you past a beautiful multi-lit fountain and pool.
Southland was well known for showing movies that the entire family could enjoy.
Southland 75’s concession stand was designed to serve 3200 patrons with ease through three stainless steel, self-serving lanes.
Starglow Drive-In Theatre
The following article is used with the permission of Walt Schaefer and The Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper. It appeared in The Cincinnati Enquirer April 27, 1986.
Earl Cox discovered his life’s work, owning drive-in theaters, while at war.
The inspiration came as he was resting on the beach of a Pacific island. He doesn’t remember the name of the speck of land.
Cox was a marine in World War II, serving under General Douglas McArthur, who led his forces from island to island, leap-frogging closer and closer to the Japanese homeland.
“After we’d take an island the Navy would bring in their ships and they always had movies on board,” Cox said as he leaned against a freshly painted white fence at the entrance to his Starglow Drive-in, 2835 Cincinnati-Dayton Road.
“We’d generally spend a day or two on the island after we’d taken it (from the Japanese) to clean up and rest up before moving on. We’d get movies from the Navy,” Cox related.
“I can remember stretching a tarp between two palm trees and painting it white and all the Marines would sit around on stumps or logs and watch the movies,” Cox said. “It got to be the (island) natives would sneak up to the edge of the jungle and you could see them standing there watching the movies.”
Cox thought that if he could lure island natives to watch movies out-doors, he could certainly attract carloads of Americans to enjoy a summer’s evening before an outdoor screen.
“I decided to try it, that it might be an interesting thing to do when I got back home. I’m sixty years old now, and owning movie theaters is the only thing I ever did. I bought the Starglow on July 4, 1955 and I bought the Dixie (Cruise-in)… over on (South) Main Street in 1970.”
He also owns the Towne East Cinemas, a multi-screen indoor theater, located in front of the Starglow.
“But I’m just a small operator,” Cox said. “It would cost somebody $100,000 to build a new drive-in today. And with all the insurance and maintenance and the film costs and competition for the recreation dollar, I don’t think they could make it today.”
Cox said that he has survived because of his location. Large chains have taken over most of the indoor and drive-in theaters in the Greater Dayton and Cincinnati areas because large companies seek to draw from large population centers.
“In the Middletown area there are about 50,000 people. The large chains aren’t interested in that. That’s why I only advertise locally. It’s likely people from here will drive to Cincinnati or Dayton to see a movie, but it’s unlikely people from Cincinnati or Dayton are going to drive to Middletown to go to the drive-in.”
The Starglow’s final season was in 1989. Hilton Auctioneers and Falcon Transport Company are now on the site.
Sidebar comments in book about the Starglow Drive-In Theatre:
Starglow’s 80’ x 40’ picture screen was originally mounted between two giant oak trees on what was formerly known as Harkrader farm. The screen was still standing in 1998, though no longer in use.
The Starglow was open year-round. The concession stand is still in use as office space for Hilton Auctioneers. The ticket booth is also in use as a storage area.
The Sunset Cruise-In, which opened on April 29, 1949, was aptly named. Located at 4149 Germantown Pike in Dayton, the screen was positioned so that the sun set behind it in the evenings. Patrons to the grand opening watched the classic ‘Adventures of Robin Hood’, starring Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland.
At first the drive-in showed family films, but as business declined over the years, this changed.
“It was showing X-rated flicks and people didn’t want that,” says Alan Doll, who was general manager of B.A.C. Theatres from 1966 to 1979. “Max Milbauer decided to buy the theater. He was underfinanced, so he went to the board of directors of the Belmont Auto Theatre and said, hey, would you like to buy the Sunset? Since it wasn’t doing well at the time, they said no.”
It wasn’t long, though, before Milbauer changed their minds.
Max and Elvin Doll did the booking of the films for the Belmont Auto Drive-in. “The thought was that, if we had two drive-ins we’d have a little bit more buying power to compete for certain films,” says Joe Flory, one of the original owners of the Belmont. “So we stuck our necks out and bought the Sunset in 1958.”
When Alan Doll was hired as general manager, the Sunset was barely generating enough profits to remain open. The theater was in disrepair, but Alan was determined to bring it “up to snuff”.
“If you want a good business you have to have a good product,” claims Alan. “Our product was the theater. And it looked awful. So we started coordinating with colored lights, making the theater look nice and putting lights along the side ramps.”
The next step was to find a marquee for the drive-in.
“Parkmoor (restaurant) had a great big sign. They took the Parkmoor and tore it down. While they were there I walked over and said, hey, who do I talk to about buying the sign? They looked at me kind for strange, but we made a deal. I think we paid, oh, $500 for a thirty, forty thousand dollar sign.”
Lester Binkman, called Binkie by his friends, was usually hired by Alan’s company to do their neon work, but in this case he didn’t have the equipment to move the sign.
“It was moved by a company in Kettering. The business picked up the sign and he ended up getting it erected, but he didn’t finish the job. We couldn’t figure out what the problem was. Here we are, we’ve got the Parkmoor sign up at the Sunset and it really looked sharp, got everything we wanted changed on it changed, but it couldn’t be lit up, it hadn’t been hooked up.”
Unfortunately, the company responsible for the moving and repairs had suddenly gone out of business. “We had to hire someone else to finish the job,” says Alan, “and that was Binkie.”
Alan renamed the theater Sunset Drive-in to reflect the changes he hoped to make. He also changed the way the booking for the movies was done.
“I started getting to know the people in the community and nobody was catering to them.” He vowed to change that. “I said let’s give the people what they want to see. Once I started doing that, business started picking up. The Sunset went from making thirteen thousand dollars a year to thirty, forty, sixty, two hundred thousand dollars a year. The Sunset was a totally different environment when I ran it.”
Unfortunately for both the Sunset and the community, Alan decided in 1979 to make a career change. The theater stayed open for only three years more, closing in the fall of 1982.
Sidebar comments in book about the Sunset Cruise-In Theatre:
The sign was eye-catching. “It was a great big arrow.” says Alan Doll. “There was a circle on top of the sign that rotated around and I made a sun out of that. It was a really neat sign.”
This 1978 season pass (of Elvis), good at both the Belmont and Sunset, was one of the most popular ever offered by BAC Theatres.
Troy-Dixie Drive-In Theatre
Moe Potasky wanted to open a drive-in theater in the Troy, Ohio area. After giving it some consideration he purchased a twelve acre fan-shaped lot, located on North Dixie Highway, from Mrs. Earl C. Galbreath.
On March 19, 1948, before the theater even had a chance to pen, disaster struck. The recently erected screen tower was torn down by 70 mile an hour winds caused by a tornado that whipped through the northern section of the Miami Valley. It was replaced with a new 50’ x 56’ cyclone-proof, transite board screen that was capable of withstanding 125 miles per hour winds.
Finally, after a two month delay, the Troy-Dixie Drive-In opened on June 4, 1948.
The $150,000 theater focused on the comfort of its patrons. Each car had its own speaker, which was equipped with a light to call a car-hop for refreshments. Students from the nearby Hobart Trade School were employed as the car hops. Jacob Brothers, who operated the concessions at Crosley Field, had charge of the refreshment stand at the theater.
The Troy-Dixie was eventually purchased by Chakeres Theatres. Troy-Dixie’s last season was in 1989. The National Truck Brokers are now located on the site.
Sidebar comments in book about the Troy-Dixie Drive-In Theatre:
The ticket booth of the Troy-Dixie is all that is left of the old theater. It stands in front of the National Truck Brokers building and is rented out as office space.
Xenia Auto Inn Theatre
The Xenia Auto Inn Theatre opened on June 28, 1947 at the junction of Cincinnati Pike and Babb Road, a half mile south of Xenia. The theater was owned and operated by the C. D. and J. Theaters, Inc., whose offices were located on Perry Street in Dayton. Dean Dennis, one of the three incorporators, was the manager. The other two members of the company were William G. Clingman and E. R. Jackson.
The theater was built on seven and a half acres, on land leased by the company from Mrs. Vesta Ireland. The drive-in’s capacity was 400 cars. A 44’ x 33’ movie screen caught the images from the movie projector 220 feet away. The projector was located in a building that also housed a refreshment stand and restrooms. Each car had an individual speaker.
Fifteen employees were used to staff the theater every night. Since there were no car heaters, the season only ran in the summer, usually from the beginning of April until the last week in October.
Unfortunately, the Xenia Auto had competition when the Sundown Cruise-In, (which later became the North Xenia Drive-In), opened the summer of 1950. By the late 1950’s Xenia Auto was allowing patrons in for sixty cents a carload in an effort to compete, probably in hopes that the patrons would spend more at the concession stand. The effort was in vain. The Xenia Auto Inn was the first drive-in theater in the Greater Dayton area to close, the last movie being shown there in the fall of 1957.
Sidebar comments in book about the Xenia Auto Inn Theatre:
By the mid-1950’s drive-in owners began to advertise unusual promotions to try and draw patrons to their theater. This ad offered a free pass to anyone who didn’t faint during a showing of ‘Black Witch’ and ‘Apeman’. Nurses in uniform were on hand to administer first aid to anyone with weak hearts. This was a common theme. During a showing of ‘Macabre’, patrons of the Sherwood and Dixie drive-ins received a $1000 life insurance policy from Lloyd’s of London in the event of death by fright. The small print read that the policy was invalid if the patron was known to have a heart or nervous condition.
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