From the Newark Advocate, November 12, 2003


Historic Theaters May Soon Be Just Memories

By Lachelle Seymour

HEATH -- The yellow newspaper clippings are lined up, pasted in a carefully aligned black bound scrapbook.

The Midland Theatre. The Arcade. The Valley Drive-In. All side-by-side, with an historic charm that still entices interest with bold black headlines.

The Midland boasted "Rhapsody" on that day long ago. The Valley Drive-In promised to present a real "shocker," rain or moon. The Arcade hoped to reach maximum capacity with "Ma and Pa Kettle" and "the spine chilling 'The Mad Musician.'" The farmer was taking a wife -- courtesy of Bette Grable -- at The Grand.

All offered an escape from the ordinary; a unique kind of haven that only seeing manifestations of imaginations live can offer.

The headlines are slightly faded now, much like the black-and-white photos Sallie Price has of her father, grandfather and other area theater moguls that brought big-name shows to Licking County households.

Price keeps the scrapbook up-to-date for her daughter, Rickie Lee Miller, hoping she won't forget that her family was responsible for creating memories for so many who made these historic theaters an escape from daily life.

Sally Price, whose grandparents built the
Heath drive-in theatre on Ohio 79, is
currently cleaning up the property for sale in
the near future. (Photo: Chelsea Stickel)

And they all fall down

Soon the long-dormant Heath Drive-In screen may come down for the last time. The Price family's farm and the old drive-in location built on the farm's land on Ohio 79 may soon be sold.

The wide screen was the third built on the site. The first fell down during construction. The second succumbed to high winds. The third still stands, remarkably pristine.

At one time, cars lined Ohio 79 before the 8 p.m. shows, Price said.

The gray farmhouse where Price lives sits on a hill, overlooking the old screen and concession stand of the business her family managed for years. Her 87-year-old uncle, Phil Gunther, is the last living family builder that knows the tale of the theater from the beginning.

The stop was a social hot-spot, Price said. Children scrambled on a playground behind the concession building. Small yellow lights hung from railings, guiding drivers to the exists.

Opened in 1953, the drive-in was an amazing draw.

Now, from the farmhouse, Price sees the old rusted railings that once held twinkling lights. Grass has grown high in the field between the screen and the concession stand. Radio poles dot the space. If you search, you can still find small patches of gravel cars once sat on.

The site is a clear example of change.

Eventually, a lack of public interest killed drive-ins, Price said. The invention of VCRs allowed Americans to watch movies of their choice in their own homes. Initially her father Myron, who assumed responsibility for the Price family's Valley Drive-In and Heath Drive-In, did not want to give up the business.

He asked Sallie to take care of the two drive-ins in the hopes that they might stay in the family.

The Heath and Newark screens closed at the end of the season in 1987. Now, the former Valley Drive-In site is up for development.

However, visitors still stop by the Heath property from time to time. They're still captured by the magic of the American drive-in.

The Heath Drive-In first fell down during
construction. The second succumbed to
high winds. The one that stands today may
soon come down. (Photo: Submitted)

Surprise visitors

"Some random people will stop by," Sallie Price said. "Once I looked out the window and a bunch of guys with white shirts and black pants were standing out there taking pictures."

They were missionaries from Utah and stopped to take pictures of each other at "historical places" around the country, Sallie Price said.

Others show up with metal detectors, she said. Apparently, old drive-in sites are prime territory for treasure hunting.

Although she worked there for only a short amount of time, Price vividly remembers working the ticket booth at the Heath site. Her father paid her $2.30 per hour. She doesn't enjoy movies herself.

"It's kind of like when you have a pool, you never want to swim in it," she said.

Her daughter has always wanted to see a movie at a drive-in, but she was born long after the last shows were projected onto her family's large outdoor screens.

Reporter Lachelle Seymour can be reached at 328-8546 or

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