St. Ansgar, Iowa: Outdoor Movies Revived in Saint Ansgar
Steve and Lorraine Beland were looking to create a bit of nostalgia when they decided to show outdoor movies on the site of the old Bel-Air Drive-In, two miles west of St. Ansgar. We were hoping to bring back a little history of the original site and maybe create a bit of publicity for our winery, said Lorraine. The couple owns Bel-Aire Winery. The original Bel-Air Fly-In Drive-In Theater began operation in the 1950s under the ownership of Andy Anderson. The drive-in was a combination and fly-in drive-in. At its peak, the drive-in held 100-150 cars per night, plus small planes that decided to fly in, land on the grass runway, taxi in, grab a speaker and watch the show. The drive-in ceased operation when strong winds blew down half the screen in the late 1970s. The Belands purchased the 13-acre property at 4351 Dancer Ave., just off Highway 105, in 1988. With business partner Adam Strouf, the Belands began renovating the old drive-in snack bar and projection building for use in the winery business. After renovation work and securing the proper licensing, Bel-Aire Winery opened for business in 2007. The building houses various processing machines and storage vats, a storage room, a bathroom and a tasting room for the public. The idea for recreating the drive in movie concept originated about mid-winter. We found a company at Swank.com that allowed one-day licensing rights to outdoor movies for a certain fee. We decided not to charge any admission because of the fact that you had to split those profits with company, said Steve. We didn't really decide to go into this venture to make a huge profit, so we decided on the free admission idea. After securing licensing rights to the movies, the Belands had to find a DVD projector that was suitable for outdoor showings. They found one on e-Bay, an online auction Web site. A 16 foot-by-16 foot viewing screen was built. Lorraine purchased a reflective type of cloth and sewed the screen together to fit the framework. On June 21, a crowd of approximately 45 people watched the movie White Lightning. We don't charge admission and patrons can bring their own food and drink if they desire, said Lorraine. We do sell pop, hot dogs, pop corn and we ask for donations to help cover the cost of the licensing of the movie. People can also sample and purchase our wines if they desire. If we break even we're pretty happy. Patrons are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets. We've had many positive comments, said Steve. People like the idea of the drive-in concept. We've also had many people tell us about the times they attended the old drive-in or even worked in the concession stand. Back to the Future is scheduled for Aug. 9. Some interesting things have occurred since the movies began playing. My son took his Wii setup out to the area and played some games on the big screen, said Steve. That looked pretty neat and we've considered having some Wii competitions out here somewhere down the road.