Thursday, August 22, 2019

The Skyborn & Melody Drive-In Theaters

A few years back, my friend Ryan and I wanted to put on our own “Guerrilla Drive-In.” We had a film picked out, a potential projector to use, a location scouted, and a vague idea of the logistics. Once we had it all set: we’d spread the word and treat any curious friends and passersby to a DIY drive-in movie experience. All you’d have to do is show up, grab a free serving of wholesale popcorn, and enjoy the show. But in the end, we ran out of time. Summer faded, it got cold, and we had other things going on.

- The nine abandoned drive-ins featured on QC/D since 2007.

Frankly, that’s been the story of going to an actual, real auto theater these last few years. Every Spring, I tell myself that I’m gonna visit one of Cincinnati’s two local-ish drive-ins. I haven’t been since I was a kid. Then summer fades, it gets cold, and I’ve had other things going on.

The only drive-ins I’ve managed to get to in the last decade have been abandoned ones. I’ve sought them out while urban exploring or have come across them on road trips. After the photographs are made and edits are applied, I sit down to try and find some words. The truth is, with these places, it’s always hard. The subject matter isn’t particularly heavy, but I find myself struggling to make a connection with what I think I feel about drive-ins. Nostalgia, and how we perceive it, is a very complex thing. My experience with drive-ins hearkens back to some fond childhood memories, but those were only occasional experiences, nothing that particularly stuck with me or was visited with frequency.

I feel that I like the idea of drive-ins, and their place in cultural history, more than drive-ins themselves. I seem to reinforce this notion every time I just stream a movie from the comfort of my own home or begrudgingly fork over money at the nearest corporate multiplex instead of trekking out to the local “ozone” with its neon light surrounded snack bar and the increasingly-rare experience it offers.

Drive-ins are the product of a different generation and while I appreciate what they were, are, and could be—my connection to them is rooted in other’s memories as opposed to my own.

Ryan had never been to a drive-in (neither a real one or our failed guerrilla variant), but he did visit some abandoned ones. He was along for the ride as I detoured to a few towering, derelict screens along the Ohio landscape between Cincinnati and Columbus. In total, these would become the 8th and 9th abandoned drive-ins I’ve photographed in the past twelve years. When we got to the second stop of the trip, I was trying to explain the drive-in experience to him—an experience filled with unique charm, but an idea that I felt like I had to “sell.”

“Yeah, so, you literally just pulled up in your car, tuned the radio (or grabbed a speaker back in the day) and waited for ‘dusk.’ At peak summer, the showtimes are gonna be late, especially if you’re seeing a double feature.”

My car went through the same motions it would’ve gone through at this spot in Springfield, OH just three years ago. We pulled up and literally drove in. The only difference was we didn’t need to pay admission at the booth and no one else was there. With the sun dropping down onto the horizon, we still would’ve had time to get snacks and jockey for a better position if need be, bit of course—this place wasn't showing movies anymore.

- Driving in to The Melody in Springfield, OH.

It was another reminder that I still haven’t been to a real one in a long time, another reminder that I’m not exactly sure how to write about or approach the subject of drive-ins.

Someone who does know how to, though, is Victoria Sanderson. The author behind Stars and Screens, she’s taking a road trip across the United States (with her dog and vintage camper) to document active drive-ins, ozone enthusiasts, and the passionate folks who keep these places running. You can check out her work here—there are some wonderful stories shared on the website’s pages.

In the meantime, my road trips for the ongoing 35mm Ohio series have occasionally intersected with the remains of some of the state’s defunct theaters. I swung by two back in April and then came across two more when Ryan and I were headed up to Columbus one weekend. Maybe I’ll get around to visiting a real drive-in this year. Both The Holiday and The Starlite, both just outside of Cincinnati, run shows into the Fall.

For now, here’s two more theaters that Ohio lost.

1. The Skyborn (Fairborn, OH)

Located just outside one of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base's gates are The Skyborn Drive-in Theater and Skyborn Skateland. A single screen, the Skyborn closed in 2015 according to Cinema Treasures.

Per the comments on that Cinema Treasures listing...
  • The theater could hold up to 1,000 vehicles and opened in 1950.
  • For a time, it showed pornographic films and was affectionately known as "The SkyPORN."
  • After the local township voted in favor of a zoning change in April of 2018, the theater and its adjacent skating rink were predicted to be demolished. 
  • The area is slated to become a quarry in service to the nearby asphalt company.
Edit: Reader Kelli wrote in on the QC/D Facebook Page with this great memory of the drive-in:

"My closest friend my senior year sneaked over into the Skyborn with a boyfriend. She looked a few cars over and her parents were there! Still laugh to this day. Sadly, the parents and my friend are all gone."

The nearby Skyborn Skateland opened in 1956 and closed in 2015. An auction was held upon its closure and like the drive-in, the land it sits on is set to become a quarry.

1. The Melody (Springfield, OH)

The Melody once shared similar ownership with the Skyborn under Chakeres Theatres (which also operates/operated other drive-ins and cinemas throughout Ohio such as the abandoned Wilmington). This may account for the similar appearance in signage and ticket booths that the Skyborn/Melody share. Unlike the Skyborn, though, this theater was a double screen. While the main structure boasts the name "The Melody Drive-In," the theater was also once known as "The Melody Cruise-In." Church services are advertised as being held on site, but since services start at 8 AM, I doubt they're using the screen or projection booth.

Per a Cinema Treasures listing...
  • The Melody opened in 1947.
  • The first films to be shown were Bowery to Baghdad and Northwest Passage.
  • It closed in 2016.

Per the Cinema Treasures comment section...
  • The theater had allegedly been converted to digital projection before closing.

Another drive-in was located across the street. Known as "The Showboat," it was demolished at some point. Apparently some remains are still present, but I didn't know about it until now. Guess I'll have to swing by Springfield again for abandoned drive-in number 10.

- Secondary projection booth.

- Marquee letters.

- Neon lights on the rear of the main screen.

Other abandoned Drive-Ins documented on the Urban Exploration section of QC/D:


  1. I believe the drive in on RT.130 just west of Hamilton is still in operation. Not sure if anything if left there was a drive in just north of new Miami on us.127, and was on at rt. 63 @ rt. 4 in excello. Hamilton had on on RT.128 right by the river, and used to be one in Fairfield rt.4 right by the by-pass 4.

    1. Hey there!

      Yeah, the Rt. 130 is still going strong, that's The Holiday. Great place!

      As for New Miami, I believe that one was "The Valley." Interestingly enough, a bunch of us went looking for it back in 2007 or so. Apparently the screen was still there, but we totally missed it. Spent the rest of the afternoon trekking to the abandoned Oakley Drive-In.

      The Valley is listed on Cinema Treasures here:

      And you can see it on Google aerial view here:,+Hamilton,+OH+45011/@39.4521301,-84.5345487,697m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x8840415ab1639703:0xc7534cea12216974!8m2!3d39.452126!4d-84.53236

      Not sure about the Excello one, but there's remains of one in nearby Middletown here:

  2. And next time you're up here in CBus, we have the (open) South Drive In on s high St not too far from downtown. I haven't been since I don't have a car. It's a flea market off season.

    1. Have it on the map! Although, I can't even get around to visiting my own local drive-ins, so not sure if I'll catch a flick there.