The Sky-Vu Drive-In Theatre is located at the east end of Gratz, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, along Route 25. It was open “in season” from early spring through mid-November. The photograph shown here was taken in the 1990s. There are no films advertised on the sign board and the grounds appear to be overgrown with weeds.
In 1949, the land on which the theatre now stands, was sold by Allen Lincoln Shade and Etta May [Hartman] Shade to Eston C. Artz and Stanford E. Carl. Eston and Stanford established a partnership to create the Sky-Vu Drive-In Theatre in 1950.
In several of those early years of operation of the Sky-Vu, I was a pre-teen and I recall getting into a vehicle of a family member and going off to the drive-in in Gratz. On the way, we would joke about the ways some of us could hide in the car so the “toll booth operator” couldn’t see us. We never did, but we were sure that some of the others who were there got in that way. The adults who took us were always careful to park in a spot near the center and near the concession, so that if we left the car for refreshments or to stretch our legs, we wouldn’t ask too many questions about why so many cars were parked to the sides and so far from the screen and why the windows were steamed up on those cars. A trip to the refreshment stand was always on the agenda, and there were always lines even though the food and drinks seemed to be expensive. While I don’t recall any of the films I saw there, I do remember that there were always double or triple features, with each film shown once, and that we never stayed for all the shows. There were also cartoons that preceded the feature films. The sound system was crude. Each car had to park at a pole with a speaker hanging from it. The driver reached out and pulled the speaker box into the car and hooked it to the window, then rolled up the window. There was no wireless, so the speaker cords dangled from the speaker box to the pole. We heard stories of people who forgot to put the speaker back on the pole and drove off – ripping the cord and making the parking place useless for the next patron. I also remember that a drive-in employee would come around and assist anyone who couldn’t get the speaker working right – which seemed to be more often than not. For someone who grew up in Atlantic City, with at least ten movie theatres in the neighborhood, going to a movie was not as much of an exciting experience as it was for many in the Lykens Valley – but going in a car and watching a movie “outdoors” was different and a memorable part of my summer vacations upstate.
After those late 1940s and early 1950s summer visits to the Sky-Vu, I never returned. It was time to spend the summers working in Atlantic City where jobs were plentiful. Money had to to be earned and saved for college.
In 1969, the Collonade Theatre in Millersburg was purchased by Marvin Troutman and Ada Troutman, who turned the operation of the theatre over to their son Marvin Troutman, who ran it as a sideline to his undertaking business. Marvin, and his wife, Doris R. [Hoover] Troutman, decided they liked the movie theatre business better than undertaking, and moved full-time into it with the purchase of the Gratz Sky-Vu Drive-In and Halifax Drive-In. Shortly afterward, they formed Martro Theatres, Inc., and by 1972, they formed the Cinema Supply Company, which supplied necessities to the theatres. At the same time, the Troutman’s had turned their theatres into pornography venues, which was where the money seemed to be.
Between then and the present, the drive-in has had some intermittent periods of success. One “modernization” that occurred was the broadcasting of the sound via FM radio rather than using the oft-damaged speakers on poles next to the parking spaces. In the 21st century, recent movie features were shown, but what threatened the permanent closing was the switch-over to digital projection, a very expensive proposition. Today, the drive-in is under new management and operates as a family-friendly venue. The new management was able to procure the required equipment, and it appears that they have just completed their fist successful season.