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Bellville, : 60 Years of Outdoor Movies Under the Stars
by Caleb Mitchell
Skyview Drive-In: 60 Years of Movies Under the Stars
The bi-state area's last standing drive-in theater is marking its 60th year in business and could soon be off the market.
The Skyview Drive-In at 5700 North Belt West in Belleville opened for its first show July 8, 1949, and until last year, co-owner Stephen Bloomer had told the News-Democrat that he and other shareholders were looking to sell the drive-in and the adjacent and abandoned BAC Quad Cinema. At one time, the property was listed at $2.2 million.
BAC Quad Cinema remains for sale, but on Monday, Bloomer said he and his son-in-law George Johns have been working to buy the two-screen Belleville drive-in from Bloomer Amusement Co., of which Bloomer is a shareholder.
"No, we're not looking to sell the drive-in at all," Bloomer said. "Me and my son-in-law are in negotiations to where we'll end up owning the property."
Bloomer's grandfather built and opened the drive-in as a single-screen venue about a year after Bloomer was born. When the Skyview opened, it was the second in the metro-east. French Village was built in Caseyville in 1939 by Paramount, the largest motion picture company in the country at the time. Others, like the Bel-Air Drive-In in Mitchell, followed.
The nation's first outdoor theater opened in New Jersey in 1933, according to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association of Middle River, Md. Many were built between the 1940s and 1960s with single-and twin-screens and evolved as a part of Americana with their distinctive, bright neon-lit marquees, speaker posts and playgrounds. At the industry's height, there were an estimated 5,000 across the country. As of July 2008, there were 383 remaining in operation.
Skyview's 60th anniversary celebration next week will include special discounts and festivities. Beginning Monday through July 12, the drive-in will have hay rides, miniature train rides and face-painting for children. Next Monday and Tuesday, the drivers of the first 60 cars at the gate will get in for the drive-in's original admission price: 60 cents. On July 8, Skyview's anniversary date, those who bring in any canned food will receive $2 off admission and get in for $7.
Movies playing at the Skyview next week are "Transformers 2" and "Star Trek" on the big front screen, and "Ice Age 3" and "Night at the Museum 2" on the other screen.
Gates open at 8 p.m. during the week and 7 p.m. on weekends. Showtime is 9 p.m.
Bloomer said he and Johns are ready to purchase the property, which is currently being held by Commerce Bank, and the process has been slow. "It's a very complex story," Bloomer said.
"Commerce Bank has the old loan for Bloomer Amusement Co.," he said. "I have my financing, and it's ready to go. That's not the problem. It's getting Commerce Bank to finalize what it will do."
Bloomer declined to comment further about the potential sale. Johns could not be reached for comment Monday.
BY WILL BUSS