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My family owned the Fiesta and Torch Drive-ins, plus the Atomic in Waverly. The family’s first foray into the drive in theater business was with the old Moonlight Auto Theater, which closed in the early 60’s. My dad was a school teacher and he and Mom had a large family, so obviously he needed other income. At the time, they lived in Waynesville. One day in the 40’s (after the war), while he was playing horse shoes, his good friend Barton Cook said to him, “Ed, I have an idea for a business venture — a drive-in theater.” At the time, there were no drive-ins in Barton’s hometown of Chillicothe, so he and Dad opened up the Moonlight, and the whole family moved there.
The two didn’t know a lot about the theater business, so they learned from experience. The ramps, for example, weren’t built from dirt hauled in. Instead, the existing earth was graded. This worked fine until a rain would come, making several mini lakes.
By the way, one of Barton Cook’s sons would grow up to become the well-known Cincinnati Bengal, Greg Cook.
Later, Dad dissolved his partnership with Barton and built the Fiesta, and later the Torch. As a child, I always loved the Fiesta because it had the playground. Later, in the 60’s after the rating system came into being, Dad limited the films at the fiesta to G and PG, and the ones at the Torch had the R rated films.
In the early 70’s dad purchased the Atomic from Hank Davidson.
My whole childhood is filled with memories of the drive-ins and our whole family still thinks of popcorn as being the 6th basic food group. Every spring when the weather begins to turn warm, my memories take me back to those days at the Fiesta or Torch. I can still hear the projectors running, and I can hear the popcorn popping.
There are also the memories of the times when dad would have concerts there (Little Jimmy Dickens, Buck Owens), and one time he featured a man buried alive. For a period of time he even had church services at the Fiesta on Sunday morning.
And of course there were fireworks on the 4th, the Dusk-til-dawns, and free coffee and donuts at dawn. One thing I most remember about my father, who passed away last March, was how he treated everyone with respect. There were many people who would come from different socio-economic backgrounds, and some would be obviously drunk out of their skull. But Dad still spoke to them as he would guests at his home.
I have more info. and memories and could go on and on…
Thanks for allowing me to share a little bit of my childhood with you.