VIEWING MOVIES UNDER THE STARS
It's triplets for Warren's surviving drive-in theater.
By MONICA BOND
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- Families this summer can wheel into nostalgia at the newly expanded Elm Road Triple Drive-In Theatre.
Warren's only movie theater has added a new screen, bringing the number of screens at the drive-in to three.
The third screen is part of improvements to the 55-year-old drive-in started the end of last summer; more playground equipment was also added.
"The third screen makes room for well over 1,000 cars," manager Stephen Georgiades said.
A bright yellow slide is one of the new attractions in the playground, and the original merry-go-round was refurbished.
"The wood had rotted away, so we spent the winter replacing it," Georgiades said.
The drive-in was the first in the world to have FM stereo so people can listen to the movies over their car radios, a project that was finished in 1983. Georgiades said the FM stereo is surround sound, just like indoor movie theaters.
"We're the only drive-in that has surround sound," he said.
The drive-in also still has its old speakers that people can hang on the windows of their cars. Georgiades said some people like to bring blankets or chairs and sit outside next to the speakers.
Elm Road Drive-in shows first-run movies. Georgiades said the business is committed to keeping prices low. Each screen shows two movies (sometimes three), and tickets are $6.50 for the night. Tickets are $2 for children 5 to 11; under 5 gets in free.
"We know people want a deal, so they don't regret it afterward. We try to maintain a family atmosphere," he said.
Robert Hreno, who owns the drive-in with his wife, Grace, said part of that family atmosphere is family-oriented movies they show.
"Our goal is to show as many family movies as possible; we rarely play R-rated movies," he said.
Families are encouraged to come to the shows early, let the kids play at the playground, and get some food at the concessions stand.
There are heavy-duty fiberglass picnic tables near the playground, so parents can eat while their children play, Hreno said.
The flick's the thing
The playground is not open during the movies because the noise disturbs people who are trying to watch, and there is no one to supervise the children; they can play during intermission.
The concessions stand has early bird specials: a jumbo pizza is $6, the first topping is free and additional toppings are 50 cents; 1/4 pound cheeseburgers and footlong hotdogs are buy one, get one free, for $2.
"It's much cheaper here than at the indoors," Grace Hreno said.
Robert Hreno said they run the concession stand themselves to keep costs down.
"It's really two businesses in one: ticket office and concessions," he said. "Some places would hire out the concessions stand, but that increases the cost to the consumer. We're a family operation and we do our best to keep prices as low as possible."
Hreno said the drive-in is a family tradition for many people.
"Lots of people who came as children are bringing their grandkids, because they've never been [to a drive-in theater]," he said. "I've seen whole families come, with six cars and cousins and uncles and aunts and grandparents."
The new screen more than doubles the size of the original drive-in, built in 1949. Stephen Hreno, his wife Mary, and son Robert, who continues his father's business, opened the Elm Road Drive-In Aug. 3, 1950.
"It's a lifelong dream," Hreno said. "I've been here since I was 14."
Stumps go boom
The drive-in sits on 26 acres west of Elm Road. Hreno said he's seen the drive-in develop from stumps of virgin timber.
"There were some stumps as big as a Volkswagon," he said. "The only way to get them out was dynamite."
Hreno said a bulldozer could only shake the stumps, and would have taken all day to remove one stump.
His father hired a World War II demolitions man to remove 120 stumps with dynamite.
The drive-in's 26 acres cost $9,000; it was built for $150,000.
"To build a first class drive-in today would cost a couple million," he said.
Lots of growth
The original drive-in had one screen and room for about 500 cars.
The drive-in introduced a second screen Aug. 3, 1979, increasing the theater's capacity to more than 900 cars.
The new concessions building was built in memory of Stephen Hreno, who had passed away on the drive-in's 10-year anniversary, Aug. 3, 1960. The second story projection booth also was added in 1979.
Hreno said there were 5,800 drive-in theaters in the United States in 1965, but now there are only 423. He said there is much more competition now for the entertainment dollar than there was in 1950.
"There's more for people to do, like festivals and fairs," he said. "When the other drive-ins closed, we noticed our business increased; until then, we were all struggling."