The historic Palace Gardens Drive-In, 225 Indian Springs Road, White Township, opens for a new season Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
“We held off and waited to see what would happen,” Clarine Beatty said Tuesday night. “We have decided that we think we can operate in a modified version from what we have done in the past.”
“Modified” comes in several ways, all of them tied in to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on businesses in Pennsylvania and on an international industry, motion pictures, or the lack thereof.
“Almost all of the movies we expected are delayed until later this year or even next year,” said Beatty, co-owner of the 70-year-old drive-in. “There are very, very few new movie releases. What we can offer now is what they call ‘repertory,’ movies released in previous years.”
Hence, this weekend’s lineup:
• “The Goonies,” a 1985 tale of young misfits who discover an ancient map and set out to find a pirate’s long-lost treasure, starring Sean Astin, Josh Brolin and Jeff Cohen.
• “Wonder Woman,” a 2017 retelling of the tale of an Amazonian warrior in training who discovers her full powers and true destiny after leaving home to fight a war, starring Gal Gadot, Chris Pine and Robin Wright.
The idea always has been to show family-friendly movies, something Beatty intends to keep doing. Getting them, even what could be called golden oldies, won’t be easy.
“The different movie companies have given a list of movies that they will make available to drive-ins or to whatever theaters are able to open,” Beatty said.
Securing films on that list is “very difficult,” says a broker who works for Palace Gardens and other smaller theaters. That broker told Beatty that his contacts are working “limited hours, or not at all.”
Adding to the scarcity of what’s available for a big screen is how recent releases aren’t going to theaters at all, but directly to on-demand for home audiences. One example, Beatty said, is the new “Skoob,” a retelling of the Scooby-Doo stories.
All this also means Beatty doesn’t know what will be shown next weekend.
In normal times, Palace Gardens could admit as many as 500 cars.
“As a theater we are required to operate at 50 percent,” Beatty said. “We will limit the number of cars we will be able to permit, (allowing) only one car between two speaker poles.”
There won’t be speakers. Patrons have to tune their FM radios to 91.5 on the dial in order to hear the movies.
No swings, either.
“People can run around on the playground, but there will be no equipment out,” Beatty said.
Patrons will have to exercise patience, and bring masks to wear when getting out of the car to go to the restroom or the concession stand, because of Centers for Disease Control and Pennsylvania Department of Health regulations.
“We have to abide by social distancing,” Beatty said. “We are requesting that there be limits to (the number of) people in the rest room. Hopefully people will be cooperative with each other.”
And that cooperation has to extend to what this year will be a straight line, rather than a zig-zag line, through the concession stand.
“Patrons are expected to move in only one direction, to tell the staff what they want,” Beatty said. “The employees will take that (order) down to the cash register.”
The line for popcorn, french fries, burgers and drinks will resemble the line in a local supermarket — one way in, one way out.
“We’ll have the spots marked,” she said. “We basically will have six spaces within our concession.”
The box office and concession stand each open each evening at 8 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, free for those 11 and younger.
“Once the box office opens we are ready to take people at the concession stand,” Beatty said. She hopes people will space out their trips to the concession stand and restrooms, rather than concentrate on the times before each movie starts.
How long the concession stand stays open will depend on crowd size and how long the second movie runs. She said it would be open into that second movie.
Palace Gardens Drive-In has had its share of double features, having weathered seven decades.
It was opened June 22, 1950, by Helen Kerzan and her husband, John, a structural steel fitter who designed and built the theater. It has remained in the family, having been handed down first to the Kerzans’ daughter Dorothy and son John, then to Dorothy’s daughter, Beatty, who runs the theater along with husband Mike Hudzick.
“My husband and I took over running it in 1995,” she said.
They didn’t give up day jobs. She’s a teacher in the Purchase Line School District, who has one more in-service day before summer vacation, while her husband is an independent contractor involved in home remodeling and maintenance.
More details about Palace Gardens are available by calling (724) 465-9032.