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Theater Comeback

Sauerbeck Drive-In in La Grange
to re-open in April

A wind storm destroyed original screen in September

LA GRANGE, Ky. (January 2019) – Business was booming for the Sauerbeck Family Drive-In when tragedy struck in September. The facility’s 98-foot screen was demolished in a storm, forcing the business to close temporarily.
Owner Stephen Sauerbeck said, “We are currently under construction. All materials are onsite and being assembled.”
Still, it looks as if it will be April 2019 before the drive-in is back up and running. Recent rains have made the weather “challenging,” said Sauerbeck. He is unsure if the weather will be dry and warm enough to finish the work this year.

Photo by Helen McKinney

The Sauerbeck Family Drive-In is rebuilding its damaged screen with plans to re-open in April 2019. The Drive-In is located inside the Business Park in La Grange, Ky.

“We had been hoping to re-open the first week of December.” The drive-in will normally operate on a seasonal basis from spring week through Thanksgiving, he said. Movies shown will be first run blockbuster movies with a double feature every night so that attendees can watch two movies for just one admission price.
The drive-in opened Aug. 10, and things were “going great,” he said. The first night a double feature of two big animal flicks was shown: “The Meg” and “Rampage.”
The project cost $2 million to launch, and in addition to the huge movie screen, the site contained a very busy concession stand. It boasted of state of the art 4K digital projection, a giant 98-foot diagonal screen (1,176 inch) and FM transmitted sound.
Efforts were made once before to establish a movie theater in La Grange so that residents wouldn’t have to drive to Louisville to enjoy the big screen. Working at the Oldham 8 movie complex was Sauerbeck’s first job. When it closed, it left a hole in the cinema market.”
Sauerbeck, who is employed full-time by The Rawlings Group, opened his theater at a time when movie attendance had fallen to its lowest levels since 1995, according to data from the National Association of Theatre. Drive-ins reached their peak in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, but closed after the movie industry went digital.
He also met with resistance at first from residents who were opposed to the idea. Sauerbeck proposed a drive-in along a rural road near railroad tracks in Oldham County. Neighbors who lived in the area argued that car traffic would overwhelm the small road and disturb the calm, rural area. That’s when a third party stepped up and offered a fairly secluded piece of land a few miles off I-71 outside of La Grange.
Luckily, he found a new location within the county at 3210 D.W. Griffith Lane. The long entrance road is named for D.W. Griffith, an Oldham County native and film-making pioneer who got his start during the golden age of silent film.
Construction began in March 2018. Expectations were high at the ground breaking ceremony on March 22.
David Bizianes, executive director of the Oldham Chamber & Economic Development, said that it was “a project we’re really excited about. It will be a draw for people all around the region.”
Oldham County Judge-Executive David Voegele said it would provide “more things for families to do. It will be a place where people can come and enjoy themselves.”
Sauerbeck said that day that “this project has been a long time coming. It’s a dream come true and will be a great asset for the community.”
He added that there had been “a lot of love and support from the community for this project.” He still feels that way today. “Everybody has been very excited about the project. This has built awareness.”
The only drive-in left near Louisville is the Georgetown Drive-In in Georgetown, Ind. Open since 1951, it still screens films on the weekends for huge crowds.
When he first opened, Sauerbeck had plans to install a second screen. Although it’s “not in this year’s plan, it’s on next year’s. It may be up by 2020.”
To build the drive-in in La Grange just made “sense financially and for demographics in the area,” said Sauerbeck. “I’m excited to get back open as soon as we can.”

• Ticket prices are $11 adults, $6 for children (ages 3-12); children under 3 are free. For more information, visit www.sauerbeckfamilydrivein.com.

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