I’m sad to report that a big part of the Twin Cities car scene – if not community – is going away. Cottage View Drive-In is closing, and just like that - along with Porky’s on University Ave - Minnesota has lost yet another piece of Americana.
It was with great enthusiasm, though tempered with underlying sadness, that I attended the farewell party on Thursday, Sept 27th. Free to all, it featured what Cottage View had become known for: a fun-filled family event.
At first glance the Drive-in seemed the same, with your typical playground, concessionaire, and rest rooms booming. A larger than normal contingent of classic cars were noticeable, their chrome bumpers hiked up and down in the ramped parking spaces. Kids were playing toss with the distinctive smell of buttered popcorn and grilling in the air.
Still, there was an undeniable somber tone to the festivities; Not so much like a funeral, but you couldn’t help but feel for the place, its customers, and its fleeting nostalgic charm. Even a singing and dancing Elvis or the Marilyn Monroe hottie couldn’t sway the grief completely. Heck, I even witnessed the Hamm’s Beer mascot bear being “arrested” (probably from drowning his sorrows; see slideshow).
Camera crews from many local stations were spotted interviewing guests. A few reporters were even re-living the memories that they, too, had grown to cherish about the drive-in. Cameras clicked everywhere, wanting to take it all in, one last time.
I have to give credit to the many that attended, as they genuinely tried to enjoy and made it a memorable sendoff. Still, others were having a hard time with the closing, openly voicing their displeasure with what has become all too common in recent years: the decline of America’s pastime.
You really couldn't help but overhear emotional conversations. Many had come to Cottage View their whole lives, making it a monthly, if not weekly summer affair. So, even with all the young kids running around and high schooler groups mingling, there was a sense those future generations would miss out. Not so much on the movie scene, but more importantly on the social and communal experiences these drive-in establishments offer.
Think back to the first time you went to a drive-in. When was it, where? Who were you with? Do you even remember the movie(s)? It was a place to be, to hang out, to be seen. It was for checking out the cars (or girls). It was for date night, no matter your age. And, perhaps, later… it would become a place to bring your kids.
The aging of America and the subsequent graying of rodders has become a topic of concern in car circles. With less young drivers than ever before entering not only the hobby but driving in general (be it car prices, fuel costs, etc), the next generation of car enthusiasts is indeed foggy. Compounding that trend is the fact that our drive-in culture is becoming slowly forgotten.
After all, now there will be only one operating drive-in theater left in the Twin Cities: Vali Hi located in Lake Elmo (http://www.valihi.com/). To put that in perspective, at one time the Cities hosted over 20 drive-in theaters. Growing up in the north suburbs in the early-’90s, I have fond memories of frequenting 65-Hi Drive-In Theater in Blaine, closed in 2002.
Opened in 1966 and operated by Mann Theatres since 1991, Cottage View Drive-In’s land will now be host to a Walmart retail store. In a sad bit of irony, the first time I brought my wife here (then dating; she had never been to a drive-in theater), I had to purchase a comfy blanket from said retailer before parking in front of the big screen. My wife, the freeze-baby she is, still cuddles up in that Batman blanket today. Cottage View made a lasting impression on my wife, even from one visit. For the record: No, there was no back seat frolicking, as we actually watched the movies. (Okay, so I drove a regular cab truck).
Some Cottage View Drive-In fun facts, according to the pamphlet handed out at the finale:
1966 pricing for adults was $1 with kids under 12 free.
Popular proposal and wedding site.
Managers Barb & Ed Stofferahn met at the drive-in & were married at Cottage View.
The screen was replaced in 1989 after a major storm destroyed the original screen.
Switched from speaker boxes to radio tuners in 1994.
Gerry Herringer’s family business created theater after buying farmland from Daulton family.
Summing it up best is a Gerry Herringer quote, taken directly from the marketing send-off:
“We wish to thank all of our faithful customers that we have known through the years as well as all of our equally faithful ex-employees. We hope the theatre contributed a little something to each of you.”
Thank you, Cottage View, for being part of our lives. You will be dearly missed by both the cars and their owners.