Residents mourn closing of drive-in, loss of Americana - East Valley Tribune: Business

Residents mourn closing of drive-in, loss of Americana

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Posted: Sunday, September 18, 2011 9:00 am | Updated: 1:18 am, Sat Oct 1, 2011.

Chains surround the entrance gate. The projection house is empty. Parking lots are desolate. And the six gigantic white screens are a blank, lifeless canvas perpetually staring back at passersby.

That's what's left of a nostalgic piece of Americana after the West Wind Scottsdale 6 Drive-in at 8101 E. McKellips Road closed its doors on Aug. 26.

The theater, which was open for 34 years, was the last remaining drive-in in the East Valley - bringing an end to a part of American culture that began in 1933 and reached its heyday in the 1950s.

"Drive-ins are a piece of Americana that's slowly being eradicated," said Jill Canfield, a Phoenix resident and frequent Scottsdale 6 patron.

Canfield, 32, was born and raised in the Valley and has gone to the drive-in with friends since she was in high school. She has started a Facebook page called "Save the Scottsdale 6 Drive-in" that has nearly 450 members after only a few weeks.

For Canfield and many local residents, the drive-in was more than just a bit of living history. It provided a more comfortable, individualized and affordable experience than a traditional movie theater.

"You could go in pajamas, grab your favorite chair and your favorite dinner and see a movie," Canfield said. The Canfields had their own setup complete with cushion chairs and table.

"People used to say, ‘Looks like they're camping,'" Canfield laughed.

For Dina Osinski, the drive-in setting included some of the most special moments in her life.

"My husband and I went there for our first date," Osinski said. "It's where my husband proposed and where we go on special occasions."

That night, Osinski went to the movies with her boyfriend expecting to meet up with some friends, as the couple often did.

She headed to get snacks, but when she returned, her now-husband Jordan had set up the back of her Jeep Wrangler with candles and three roses - one for the past, one for the present and one for the future.

With their second wedding anniversary coming up in November, Osinski hopes the drive-in reopens. She wants to celebrate her marriage in the place where it all began.

There's still a small chance that could happen.

Tony Maniscalco, the vice president of marketing for Syufy Enterprises which owns the drive-in, said he hopes negotiations with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community can continue and bring the Scottsdale 6 back into operation.

"Before it closed, the drive-in was on pace to have its biggest year ever," said Maniscalco, whose company still owns the only other remaining Valley drive-in in Glendale.

But good attendance numbers couldn't keep the theater open after the lease for the land expired in August.

The land is owned by an individual member or family of the SRPM Indian Community, but the community government does not release the names of individual landowners, said Janet Johnson, the community relations director for the tribe.

The drive-in leased nearly 29 acres of land in 1976 with a 25-year lease and an optional 10-year extension.

"Federal regulations only allow for only one option to renew," said Johnson. The 10-year extension began in 2001.

Three years ago, with the lease expiration coming up, the landowner reached out to Syufy Enterprises to try to renegotiate a lease, Johnson said. However, they were unable to reach an agreement.

The reasons for the failed negotiations are unclear. Maniscalco said they had been told an area that holds two or three of the six screens wouldn't be available because of a new environmentally "green" development. But Johnson said the tribe is unaware of those changes.

"There has been no discussion or paperwork on any type of new development in that area provided to the tribe," Johnson said.

Johnson said part of the problem with a new lease agreement is that Syufy Enterprises failed to provide certain documents by a deadline. Maniscalco said he had never heard of any missed deadlines.

Despite the discrepancies, both representatives say they are open to renegotiations for a new lease.

"To install a drive-in screen costs about $100,000 and to move one to a different location would probably cost even more," Maniscalco said. "It would probably be cheaper to install a new one."

Costs and business aside, both groups agree that the drive-in was a point of pride.

"It provided family-value entertainment for so many years," Johnson said. "At least in Arizona, it was the first state-of-the-art six-screen drive-in on Indian land and we were proud of that."

"We know there are a lot of disappointed people," said Maniscalco. "We very much desire to be there, we absolutely wanted to stay."

Earlier this week, Syufy removed its equipment from the Scottsdale location and moved it to the Glendale drive-in located at 5650 N. 55th Ave. Hopefully it's a temporary thing, Maniscalco said. It was only to make sure the equipment wasn't stolen or vandalized while the drive-in sits empty.

But for now, the large, white banner hangs across the entrance gates: Closed, Thank you for your patronage.

Contact writer: (480) 898-5645 or sspring@evtrib.com

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