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Mahoning Drive-in has special place in our memory banks

“The community made it happen.”

So said Virgil Cardamone, one of the partners in the Mahoning Drive-In Theater, which has been front and center in the news when it appeared as if the iconic institution might be turned into a solar farm.

Thanks to an outpouring of support from loyal fans and local residents, Cardamone said the firm that was negotiating to buy the property from the drive-in owner has graciously decided to take its offer off the table if Cardamone and his partner, who lease the drive-in from Joseph Farruggio, are able to cut a deal to buy the property.

This is a powerful example of how the public can have an outsized influence on important issues that have historic implications for communities.

While it is wonderful that there has been such a public outpouring to affect the outcome, I wish some of that energy also can be applied to bigger problems which affect far more residents and more complicated quality-of-life issues.

I want to emphasize that the drive-in’s status is not changing in the near-term, and that the solar farm outcome is not completely out of the picture, at least not yet.

According to reports, Farruggio said that he will negotiate with the drive-in’s partners, but he is not making any guarantees. Farruggio reportedly is not happy with the way the possible sale to Greenskies Clean Energy LLC, the firm planning the solar farm, unfolded publicly.

He’s right. Greenskies should not be portrayed as the bad guy. After all, this company was negotiating in good faith with the expectation that if the owner of the land wanted to sell, it was interested.

Little did Greenskies realize that it was walking into a buzz saw of intense public sentiment. After all, the number of drive-ins in the country has been dwindling for decades, but the Mahoning Drive-In Theater has an important historical niche because it is the only one left that continues to show 35 mm films.

Film buffs love it, but it’s more than just the movies. It has evolved into a social phenomenon where filmgoers from miles around congregate at the facility between routes 443 and 902 and where frequent attendees have become good friends.

Patrons really get into the spirit of the occasion, too, often dressing to complement what is being seen on the screen.

The Mahoning Drive-in Theater has been around since 1949, and those who love it do not want to see it meet the fate of many other drive-ins.

The drive-in issue is scheduled to come up at a meeting of the Mahoning Township Zoning Hearing Board at 7 p.m. Aug. 3, a continuation of the hearing from earlier this month.

The drive-in lessees are planning a rally for Aug. 2, the day before the hearing, and all of the drive-in’s supporters are invited. Then, on Aug. 3, supporters are asked to meet at the drive-in so they can form a caravan at 6 p.m. to drive to the zoning hearing board meeting.

We all have our favorite drive-in memories, and as a teenager growing up in Summit Hill, I am no exception. One of my proudest was when Bill Shirar, who with his wife, Loretta, operated the Mahoning Drive-in for 32 years, gave this aspiring disc jockey the chance to spin records and engage in idle chatter before the start of films and at intermission time during the summer between my graduation from Summit Hill High School and the first year of college at East Stroudsburg University in 1957.

For those of us who spent part of our teenage years coming of age in drive-in theaters, they will always be a special part of our memory bank.

Although the first drive-in theater opened in 1933, it wasn’t until the ’50s that they became super popular. Since we couldn’t make out with a girl at home for obvious reasons, a drive-in was the next best thing.

When we took a girl to a drive-in, the motion picture playing was sometimes incidental to the real reason we were there, but I also learned the hard way once that I needed to pay attention to the titles of the films playing - usually double features - and at least a little of the plot in case mom would ask about them the next day.

By Bruce Frassinelli | tneditor@tnonline.com

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.