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Local News

March 12, 2012

Unadilla Drive-In screen damaged

Winds and stormy weather toppled much of the huge screen at the Unadilla Drive-In last week, but Sunday a co-owner said the business hasn't presented its last picture show.

Eric Wilson, co-owner of the drive-in on state Route 7 for about 13 years, said high winds snapped some of the dozen supporting telephone poles, and about 75 percent of the 60-year-old screen is gone.

"It was time for it to get replaced," said Wilson, who also is a Sidney Town Board member. "It did its job. We definitely will be replacing it."

The screen, starting at 20 feet above ground, measured 40 feet tall by 80 feet wide, Wilson said. The frame around the screen was made of steel and wood, he said, and the surface was plywood painted white. Only about 400 drive-ins remain in the United States, Wilson said.

The Unadilla Drive-In is the only one in the area. The Unadilla Drive-In can accommodate up to 300 automobiles and 1,300 people, and has long been considered an economical way to go to the movies. The drive-in's website advertised two films for the "price of one" with admission last year at $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and $3 for children 12 and younger.

Richard Loomis of Sidney said he and his wife, Flora, spent courting time at the drive-in in the 1950s. More recently, he has attended annual car shows at the site, said Loomis, who welcomed the news that Wilson plans to rebuild.

"I'm glad to hear he's going to do it because a lot of people used it through the years," Loomis said. "There are a lot of memories."

Years ago, teenagers would squeeze as many friends as they could to get in on the nights when admission for one car was $1, Loomis said.

"That screen has stood a long time," Loomis said. "That was a tremendous wind" that swept through the area Thursday night, he said.

Del McKee, who lives in Unadilla across from the drive-in, said he heard a sound "like a clap of thunder" on Thursday night. An inspection Friday revealed that the "vibration" likely was the wind damage to the screen, he said.

Wilson said he didn't know about the damages until he drove by Friday.

"It was quite an eye-opener," he said Sunday. "It is unfortunate."

Wilson said he spent about five hours Saturday looking into options to build another screen. Insurance coverage will help but probably won't meet the costs.

Wilson is co-owner with Jack Georges, who lives in New Jersey. During their childhood in Guilford, they had gone to the Unadilla Drive-In, and when the possibility developed that the drive-in might close, they decided to prevent such a fate.

Wilson said the hope is to have a replacement screen in May so that the drive-in can open on weekends as planned. After school is out in June, the drive-in is open five nights a week, he said, and the season ends in September.

Wilson said the drive-in shows first-run films.

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