White Township’s Palace Gardens Drive-In was not one of the five winners of digital movie projectors in a national contest to help drive-ins stay in business.
But there was encouraging news Sunday from the American Honda Motor Company, sponsor of the contest: The voting by fans for their favorite drive-in has been extended to Saturday, and Honda will give away four additional projectors.
Drive-in theater fans cast more than 2 million votes for their favorite drive-ins in the first round of online voting sponsored by Honda. The top five vote-getters won digital projectors valued at about $80,000 each.
Those prizes will help the winners stay in business when the movie industry — perhaps by the end of the year — stops releasing new movies on 35 mm film and switches to an all-digital distribution format. The upgrade in technology may be too expensive for some drive-ins, especially ones that are open only on weekends during the summer, and they may be forced to close.
According to the Project Drive-In website where the votes were tallied, the five winners were the Saco Drive-In, Saco, Maine; The Cherry Bowl Drive-In, Honor, Mich.; the Graham Drive-In, Graham, Texas; the McHenry Outdoor Theater, McHenry, Ill.; and the 99W Drive-In, Newberg, Ore. The five winners were announced, one each day, beginning Wednesday and climaxing with the fifth winner on Sunday.
The first five digital projectors given away by Honda were won by drive-ins in relatively small towns. McHenry has the largest population of the first five winners, with just over 27,000 people. Honor is a village in northern Michigan with a 2011 population of just 326.
Under the contest rules, fans may vote each day (once each on a desktop computer and on a smartphone) for their favorite drive-in. The Indiana Gazette and Delaney Honda have joined the effort to save the local drive-in.
Clarine Beatty, owner of Indiana’s Palace Gardens Drive-In along Indian Springs Road, has said she and her husband, Mike Hudzick, won’t make a decision on whether there will be a 2014 season at Palace Gardens until sometime during the coming winter. Beatty said she and Hudzick are trying to figure out if they can afford a new digital projector and about $20,000 worth of electrical system and projection room improvements needed at their theater.
“We’ll evaluate everything over the winter,” Beatty said, adding she and Hudzick will not make a decision on their drive-in’s future until they have more information.
Asked Saturday if there was some other option for keeping Palace Gardens open without a digital projector, she said, “I just don’t know.”
Beatty said Palace Gardens winning one of the free digital projectors may be a real challenge because there is a relatively large number of drive-ins still operating in Pennsylvania, and the votes from Keystone fans may be fragmented among so many drive-in candidates.
According to Drive-ins.com, a website that describes itself as the definitive resource for drive-in information, there are 28 drive-in theaters still operating in Pennsylvania.