Sandusky Drive-in: Just silver screen memories now

SANDUSKY The moon set on Tim Bretz's moonlighting at the Sandusky Drive-In five years ago. And for years it has set on
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

 

SANDUSKY

The moon set on Tim Bretz's moonlighting at the Sandusky Drive-In five years ago.

And for years it has set on the drive-in theater culture all across the nation as giant screens that brought Hollywood home to millions of viewers were one-by-one abandoned for the world of multiplexes.

The icon of American pop culture, spawned from the age of the automobile and the pinnacle of come-as-you-are cheap dates and family entertainment decayed.

Bretz ran the projector in the moonlight at the Sandusky Drive-In for more than 30 years.

Later in life he drove 80 miles from his home to Sandusky to make $7.50 an hour for the practice of lost art of running two projectors simultaneously.

Later this fall the drive-in will be torn down to make way for more park space and wetlands.

The equipment long since gone, the screen falling into disrepair from years of Lake Erie winds and winters, Bretz knows it had its run.

He isn't a stranger to the death of a drive-in, he's watched another he worked at be torn down.

Few local projectionists from the silver era of Bretz's rookie years as a projectionist remain, he said.

In the 1970s, Bretz worked at numerous local theaters along side Steve Megyesi Jr., Robert Hollis Jr., Bob Adler and others.

Megyesi got Bretz his job and for years the two harbored a secret dream of buying the drive-in, restoring it and operating it.

Now he wonders what might have been if they had followed their whim.

"I always kind of thought it would have been neat if it could have been fixed up," he said. "There is a certain resurgence in drive-ins ... and on Cleveland Road there isn't too much light pollution."

The drive-in was built by Earl Seitz in 1949. The last major equipment upgrade at the drive-in was in 1970.

Simplex 35 projector heads were installed to be used with the existing light source from 1995 -- water-cooled carbon arc lights.

To be a projectionist you need to be a chemist and craftsman, Bretz said.

The light for the projector at the Sandusky Drive-In was produced by an 11-mm positive carbon and a copper coated 9-mm negative carbon.

Seventy amperes worth of power forced the positive carbon through blocks of solid silver that had water-cooling line passes through them to draw off the heat.

The light was forced through a frame only slightly larger than 24x36 mm of a 35-mm film negative to place the images 270 feet away for viewing in the 500-car capacity theater.

Bretz and others worked the complex dual projector system until the drive-in closed.

He salvaged a few tangible memories of his tenure in the form of film clips the owners allowed Bretz and a few other employees take in 2001.

Now, in its last months, Bretz would like to see the area of the drive-in be named something like "Cinema Park."

"I think there should be some sort of a nod to it, that thing sat there for almost 60 years," he said.