The Mahoning Drive-In Theatre opened in 1949 and continues operation today! Bethlehem Steel constructed the 105-foot Cinemascope screen in 1948.
The ownership or management is a bit spotty – but thanks to Billboard, the user NeonMichael on Cinematreasures.org, and the author of www.carload.com, I have a general idea:
- 1949: Opened. Operated by Max Korr, Mitchell Rappaport and Shirer. A.M. Ellis also took up 50% interest in to the Mahoning (Ellis Theaters of New Jersey). Ellis operated drive-ins in New Jersey.
- 1956: Owned by Ellis Theatres
- 1952: Joseph J. Humphries and R. C. H. Becker Sr
- 1963-66: Claude Reinhard
- 1978: Riant Entp
- 1980-82: J. Morgan
- 1982-1998: Amos Theaters Inc (Joseph Farruggio)
- ? – 2013: Owned by Mike and Deb Danchak, who also own the nearby Angel Theatre in Coaldale.
- 2014-present: Jeff Mattox
- July 2014: Added Matt McClanahan and Virgil Cardamone
Over the years, the car capacity increased gradually to eventually reach the current capacity of approximately 900 cars.
In 2013, Mike and Deb Danchak closed the theatre for the season on September 8. This was the time the movie industry announced they would be switching film from 35mm to digital – with no more than one year left for possible 35mm films available for current movies.
A digital projector was a pricey investment. A bamboozler – Glen Brannon – took advantage of the drive-ins difficulties and reached out to Mike Danchak about saving the theater. There was a major fundraising effort to fix-up the drive-in. Volunteers came to the drive-in and painted the projection booth, for example. There was an online fundraising page to raise money for the projector and other needed improvements. Depending on the amount you donated, you were able to receive a gift of some kind. I remember seeing the opportunity to buy carload passes for the upcoming season as well. Personally, I donated money in hopes to keep the theater alive and running! Brannon headed all of these processes, with the promise of updating and revitalizing the Mahoning DI.
However, Brannon turned out to be a swindler. He had dealings with several other theaters and you will be hard pressed to find a positive piece of information about Brannon. See the given links at the end of this post for information about Brannon.
Jeff Mattox took over the drive-in in 2014 and for a brief stint, renamed the theater as “Big Pocono Outdoor Theater.” He managed the Mahoning from 2001-2007, and part of the 2010 season, prior to returning as the new owner. On July 22, 2014, Mattox officially added McClanahan and Cardamone (Mahoning FB page).
For the 2014 season, the Mahoning continued to show first-run movies from the companies that would provide 35mm films. Per a Facebook post on March 17, 2014, Jeff initially believed the Mahoning would need to purchase a digital projector to continue into the 2015 season. However, the Mahoning switched to nostalgic movies for the 2015 season and continues today. You also have the option to camp if you are interested.
As quoted from the official Mahoning Drive-In website: “We offer an exclusively retro 35mm film program, which is presented reel-to-reel via original 1940’s Simplex projectors! Our goal; to deliver you a true love of film, and the nostalgic movie going experience you can only get at the drive-in!”
Our Visit (September 14, 2013)
Our stop at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater was a double hit – we had a movie night at Laurel Drive-In Theater (35 minutes away), but also stopped by the Mahoning for a brief photo shoot!
The Mahoning Drive-In had closed for the season the previous weekend, but we still wanted to see the property. I was instantly excited by the beautiful marquee – the red arrow directing patrons was eye-catching and gorgeous. Who doesn’t love an old-fashioned drive-in marquee?
We approached the drive-in property – you can see the screen as you drive down Seneca Road. Mahoning DI has a fun entrance with ticket booth and overhand introducing the theatre. The left side was blocked with a chain, and based on the tracks on the ground, has not been used in quite some time. Regardless, you could easily picture two rows of cars lined up for a night of movies!
A small building seemed to be the location for tickets, not far past the original ticket booth. (Further research showed this to be true, but the current owners use the original ticket booth!)
Inside the theater, there is a paved roadway for the entrance and to the exit, as well as around the projection booth. The car parking/viewing area was covered in grass. The projection booth was standard concrete, white with colored polka dots. There were openings for the projector to project the movies onto the large CinemaScope screen.
The screen is always one of my favorite aspects to photograph. Along the top of the screen, there was either speakers or lights. Under and slightly behind the screen was a small building. I’m unsure the purpose, but photographed it anyway.
Finally, the EXIT sign guided us off the property for the day. Random side note, we took our photos of the marquee on our way out.
There were a few piles of trash around the property – not too unusual for older theaters.
Mahoning Drive-In Theatre
635 Seneca Rd
Lehighton, PA 18235
References and Further Reading:
Official Website: http://mahoningdit.com/
News articles on Brannon: http://www.route66news.com/2012/06/18/who-is-the-teepee-drive-ins-new-operator/, http://www.route66news.com/2013/05/11/teepee-drive-ins-former-operator-resurfaces-in-pennsylvania/, http://wnep.com/2013/05/10/excitement-turns-to-concern-for-drive-in-trying-to-stay-open/
Big Pocono Outdoor Theater FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/bigpocono/
Article about documentary film on the Mahoning DI: http://republicanherald.com/news/documentary-to-tell-story-of-mahoning-drive-in-1.2252034