Sunset Drive-In

4149 Germantown Pike,
Dayton, OH 45417

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Sunset Drive-In

The Sunset Cruise-In, which opened on April 29, 1949, was aptly named. Located at 4149 Germantown Pike, the screen tower was positioned so that the sun set behind it in the evenings. The new airer opened with the screening of the 1938 adventure “The Adventures of Robin Hood", starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland and Basil Rathbone. The new Sunset Cruise-In was opened by Samuel Horner, President; Judson Coates, Vice President; Russell Brewer, Treasurer; and Ross Holmes, Secretary (dba Sunset Cruise-In Theatre, Inc.). It was designed by Parker Bookwalter, engineer, and the Globe Theater Service and Supply Company. It began with a capacity of 300 cars, and later was able to accommodate 450 cars with in-a-car speakers. Some of the operators of the theatre were Lou Wetzel 1949-1950 (I believe he was running the Skyline Drive-In also at this time), 1951-1952 J. Hulakan, 1952-1954 J. E. Crissman and 1955-1956, Mitchell Blachschleger. Later on in 1966, Blachschleger would open up the Academy Drive-In Theatre in Loveland, Ohio. At first the Sunset Cruise-In showed family films, but as business declined over the years this changed. Alan Doll, the general manager of B.A.C. Theatres from 1966 to 1979 recalls:

“Max Milbauer decided to buy the theatre. 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. Later John Parker who operated the North Star Drive-In would handle the booking and promotions for the Belmont Auto Drive-In and Sunset Cruise-In. “So we stuck our necks out and bought the Sunset in 1957.” When the Sunset reopened with new owners on September 6, 1957, they upgraded with all new RCA projectors, in-a-car speakers and sound system. The first 100 cars got free pizza. When Alan Doll was hired as general manager, the Sunset was barely generating enough profits to remain open. The theatre 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 theatre and it looked awful. We started coordinating with colored lights, making the theatre look nice and putting lights along the side ramps". Eventually John Parker who operated the North Star Drive-In would handle the booking and promotions for the Belmont Auto Drive-In and Sunset Cruise-In.

The next step was to find a marquee for the drive-in. The Parkmoor Restaurants was a chain of drive-in restaurants that were located in the Dayton area. They took one of the Parkmoor Restaurants and demolished it. Alan recalls, “While they were there I walked over and asked who I could 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 they 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 and that was Binkie.”

In 1964 Alan renamed the Sunset Cruise-In to the 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 Drive-In went from making thirteen thousand dollars a year to thirty, forty, sixty, two hundred thousand dollars a year. The Sunset Drive-In was a totally different environment when I ran it.” In September of 1973, The Sunset Drive-In celebrated its 25th anniversary with a six-foot-tall birthday cake that weighed 250 pounds. It provided enough pieces of cake for 1,000 patrons. The giant cake took a week to bake and ten hours to decorate. It was taken to the Sunset Drive-In in sections and assembled. Unfortunately for both the Sunset Drive-In and the community, Alan decided to make a career change in 1979. The Sunset Drive-In stayed open for only three years, closing at the end of season in 1982. The Sunset Drive-In was demolished and it is now used as a location for two cell phone towers and a transmitter. The transmitter is where the concession stand was located.

Some Source Material: Greater Dayton Drive-In Theatres by Curt Dalton

Contributed by Randy Studer

Recent comments (view all 1 comments)

davidcoppock
davidcoppock on October 21, 2018 at 5:02 am

The concession stand is part of the commication tower and transmitter.

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