ANGOLA - On Route 5, scaffolding and plastic sheets cover the site of an upcoming commercial building, a sign of the direction of progress in Angola.
Just across the street, Tony Troidl, head of the movement to save the Grandview Drive-in, watched Friday as a crew dismantled the "wings" that widened the theater's single massive screen.
After three years of campaigning to save the last drive-in theater in Erie County, demolition of the site began Tuesday under the apparent order of property owner Edward Carbeck, according to Troidl. The Grandview closed in 2006 and it was revealed soon afterward that negotiations were under way with Wal-Mart to build a "supercenter" on the site. With the deal ongoing and Wal-Mart not yet cleared to build, the clearing of the site at this time caught Troidl and his group, Friends of the Grandview, by surprise.
OBSERVER Photo by Tim Latshaw
A crew works to cut away a tower that once held one of the “wings” of the Grandview Drive-in’s screen Friday. Demolition of the theater began Tuesday, to the surprise of preservationists.
"We expected we'd be dealing with Wal-Mart with that issue, if it all - not now," he said. "This is totally unexpected."
Over the course of the campaign to preserve the theater, focus began to shift from keeping it on-site to relocating it. One potential option has been within the town of Brant, where talks have been ongoing with Supervisor Leonard Pero. The onset of the demolition, however, has left relocation the only obvious option at this time, and Troidl has talked with the workers in hope that they will keep as much of the screen and other parts of the structure as intact as possible.
"There's only so much (the workers) can do," Troidl said. "They were hired to do a job and I'm not going to blame them, but they certainly don't have to go doing any willful damage. They can go about their business doing what they need to do, but as far as our plans to relocate it go, they'd still be on track as long as we can salvage the structure."
Friends of the Grandview hope that Carbeck will keep the the offer he made in a 2006 letter to the town of Evans in which he offered to potentially donate the structure to interested parties. However, Carbeck has remained almost completely silent since, not speaking to Friends of the Grandview, local representatives or media.
David Ludlow and Zura Gerlach, members of Friends of the Grandview, consider the drive-in as a historial landmark that could still have something to offer the community. Ludlow remembers not only the movies, but playing on the swings of the on-site playground as a child, while Gerlach noted the baseball diamond that was used at the back of the property.
"Most people around here grew up with this drive-in," Ludlow said. "It's like one of the last patches of family entertainment left in Angola."
The theater also has some notable facts running through its history. Built in 1949, the 60-foot screen with the addition of its side "wings" made it one of the largest drive-in screens in the country and was one of the first to show a movie in stereo sound in the 1960s. The theater also once employed Angola native John Pytlak, who went on to win an Academy Award in 2001, as well as other awards, for his technical achievements in the field of motion picture film with Kodak. Pytlak had constructed the original radio sound transmitter at the Grandview - the first of its kind in the state - and supported the preservation of the theater until his passing in 2007.
But in a world where cars come with built-in DVD players, drive-ins have been in a steady decline. Today, fewer than 400 drive-in theaters exist in the United States. The only such theater currently in Chautauqua County is the Park 60 in Jamestown.
And as changes seem to move in with little power to stop them, worries arise over what kind of ripple effect may result. Both Ludlow and Gerlach are concerned that the smaller businesses that remain in Angola, such as the Jubilee grocery store neighboring the site of the Grandview, may not be able to survive in the shadow of the larger business.
"We realize we're fighting progress," Ludlow said. "... but I think there are a lot of people that don't support (the Wal-Mart location) that are quiet."
"We're not against Wal-Mart coming in," Gerlach said. "We're just against them coming in at this location."
Even so, there is actually a chance that Wal-Mart's arrival could spell the Grandview's salvation should it help relocate the structure. According to Troidl, a professional group has been willing to donate the manpower to help move the drive-in equipment as a training exercise. Still, costs would be incurred, and relocation was discussed with a Wal-Mart representative in 2008 in hope that the corporation could possibly provide aid. No decisions have been expressed regarding that possibility.
But whether it may have a home somewhere else, it appears that soon the Grandview Drive-in will no longer tower over the Route 5 intersection where it has stood for the past 60 years. As it is taken apart, piece by piece, so too are more remnants of a different era that some do not think should disappear.
"I don't want to be up here much longer," Gerlach said. "It's just sickening to watch it get torn down."