Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Wilmington & Sunset Drive-In Theaters


I came across two more abandoned drive-in theaters while recently on the road throughout Ohio. I’ve been doing a lot of research on roadside architecture, sights, and environs throughout the Midwest lately. Not surprisingly, the Buckeye State’s landscape is dotted with several abandoned drive-ins. A few have been documented here on QC/D, but even more exist in derelict status throughout Ohio (at least according to Google Maps (possible stops on future road trips)). Surprisingly, though, the state still has several “ozones” still operating and functioning.. In the communities they serve, they’re still seen as summer staples—an experience that’s both unique from a movie-going and historical perspective. Sadly, The Wilmington and The Sunset aren't currently counted among them.



1. The Wilmington (Wilmington, OH)

According to a commenter on Cinema Treasures, the history goes like this:

  • The Wilmington opened as the “The Northside” in 1948 with 600 spaces.
  • The Shocking Miss Pilgrim” was the first film to be shown.
  • Pony rides at the base of the screen were allegedly once offered before features.
  • Porn films were shown in the 70s, but local opposition apparently guided the theater back to a more family-oriented experience.
  • A digital projector was eventually installed.

It also looks like this place closed for a time, but reopened in 2013 before closing again at the end of the 2015 season. The land was for sale when I passed by in 2019.





- Former speaker poles.

- Former speaker poles.






2. The Sunset (Mansfield, OH)

Opened in 1947 with a showing of “Frontier Gal,” it was once able to accommodate up to 500 cars.


Per Cinema Treasures: The Sunset was formerly managed by a woman named Nelda who began working at the theater when she was 12 years old. She met fellow employee and future husband, Richard Spore, there. After taking a hiatus to be a teacher, Nelda returned to the Sunset to manage the place alongside her husband. Richard Spore passed away from cancer in 2013 and shortly after, Nelda Spore retired.


According to the theater's facebook page, (which seems to have originally been a fan page rather than a representation of the actual business), movies were still being shown on the single screen through 2015, but the place didn't reopen for 2016. A post made in August of 2017 stated that repairs from storm damage were underway in hopes of re-opening the theater. In May of 2018, someone posted a string of ideas on how to raise restoration/operating funds. In June of 2018, the (apparently) still-closed theater was charging $5.00/vehicle for a convenient spot to watch the local Fourth of July fireworks.

Nothing else has been posted as of April 29, 2019.

About ten minutes down the road, Mansfield is also home to The Springmill, a twin-screen drive-in that’s still open as of this post.

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

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