In a recent conversation I was told the Bel-Air Drive-In of St Ansgar, saluted in a posting by way of Marilyn Ulve last month, was closed. That it's now a winery. And both those statements are true, in a convoluted sort of way.
For any drive-in to be closed is sad, given the memories they have for all of us, but more on that later.
First off, let's do a little exploration with what is happening with that dandy old Bel-Air. Clearly this is not the only blog in the world, and I have learned that a fellow named Dave, who grew up in St Ansgar in the early 50's and 60's, has even more golden oldie stuff on his web site (yep, click that link) than we have here.
He's got the 50's music, he's got the Bel-Air history with a photo (above) of the entryway to the theater circa 1975, and he's even got a Beer Page to celebrate his apparent love of all things beer including a recent beer fest in Madison, WI. Being a Badger now, I enjoyed viewing his Beer Page photos. I picked out the Capitol Brewery (very good beer), mead (if you need something alcoholic this will do) from White Winter Winery in Iron River, WI, and numerous witty (if you've been drinking, especially) tee shirts.
Sorry, I got sidetracked - back to the Bel-Air. It was unique as a "fly-in drive-in", one of only a half-dozen in the country. Conveniently for us Northwood types, it's due east out of town on Highway 105 (the highway number, Janis, not the speed limit!). The screen blew down sometime in the 70's and apparently the landowners started showing movies again in 2008, after opening their winery in 2006. Winery? Yep - click the link. And be sure to find the Bel-Air page on the link to Dave's site because he includes some history in an inadvertent sort of way. And both links will get you to the summer schedule of movies.
I suppose you could call this combination of retail services (the "drive-in winery") an effort to diversify your product menu, thus increasing revenues. What it does show - as a revenue enhancer - on the summer schedule is that the St Ansgar Class of '71 will be enjoying their 40th class reunion there on August 6. Not exactly "if you build it they will come" but a nifty marketing concept anyway.
They're all disappearing. The drive-ins, that is, which is no news. If you Google drive-in theaters Iowa or Minnesota, you find out there are so few left, and the Bel-Air is not even listed as operational. Iowa had 70 drive-ins in the '50s; in 2000 the Hillcrest in Cedar Falls (been there, done that) went out, leaving only 3 - if you don't count the Bel-Air. In Minnesota there were 80 back in the day, now only six are on the list and one of them is on a "Death Watch." Most of them are in rural western Minnesota, though one of those six is about 5 miles from my door, in Lake Elmo. But I haven't seen a movie there for 25 years so I am not exactly helping their revenue stream.
Am I missing much by not going? Three for the price of one, I suppose. Scratchy speakers that sometimes got pulled off the post by mistake. Or maybe got stolen, by someone who has absolutely zero belief in sound quality, what you would call a "tin ear." Concession stands that overcharged for food that wasn't very good (so what's new about this?). Being able to sneak a few riders in by hiding them in the trunk, then parking secretively in a back row where no one will see them get out.
Going too fast over the mounds designed to give you a better view. The guy in front with his foot on the parking brake. The guy behind who forgot to turn off his lights. Buck night. Westerns. Roaming the grounds to find the couples you knew who were making out. Honking if the projection malfunctioned. In later years, taking the kids with the hope that they'd fall asleep after the first movie, which for marketing/attendance purposes was a cartoon or kiddie movie.
And there must be more that you could cite yourself. All the memories, they keep on comin.'
PS: Richard Holstad sent this after the above was posted, but it's never too late to take a short trip to the drive-in. Click the link.