ST. ALBANS — After almost three years, the screen at the former St. Albans Drive-In will be coming down.
Handy Buick GMC has purchased 11 acres — approximately half of the lot — and will be taking down the screen soon, according to co-owner Dave Handy.
The drive-in, built in 1948, closed in 2013 when the late Paul Gamache, who owned the open air theater, chose not to upgrade to digital projection.
“We needed some more room here,” said Handy, adding that the company needs to expand its building because the service area is too small. “We’re very busy and our shop is too small.”
“They didn’t want to sell just a little bit,” said Handy.
The building expansion will not require all 11 acres, said Handy, adding that the company has no definite plans for the remaining land.
Originally built by Harold Ryan, Sr., and his wife, Gertrude, the drive-in was just the second theater of its kind in Vermont, according to Harold Ryan, Jr.
Ryan, Jr., was 2 when his parents built the theater 66 years ago, and he worked at the family’s business into his 20s.
“The movies was the greatest thing,” he said.
Others thought so, too. The theater was often so full its proprietors “couldn’t get more cars in,” said Ryan.
Admission was just a quarter per person and children under 12 were free. Popcorn cost a dime and a hot dog was a quarter. Pennies were needed for change. Ice-cold sodas were seven cents.
The sodas were chilled with blocks of ice from the ice plant on the Walnut Street Extension in St. Albans City, explained Ryan. The plant’s workers delivered the ice to homes and businesses.
The theater continued to prosper even after the advent of television, according to Ryan, because there wasn’t much on TV then and not many people had a one.
His father sold the drive-in to Paul and Celey Gamache in the 1960s because he feared the proximity of the planned interstate would hurt the business, explained Ryan.
The closing of the theater marked the end of an era, not only for St. Albans, but also for the nation. The first drive-in was built in New Jersey in 1933. They spread across the U.S., reaching their peak popularity in the 1950s and 1960s.
Drive-ins once accounted for 25 percent of the nation’s movie screens. In 2013, they were just 1.5 percent, with further declines expected as owners chose not to convert to digital.