By ALEXANDRA NEWMAN
When the 49er Drive-in opens on Easter weekend, movie goers are in for
some great surprises. Steve and Mike Cotton will have renovated the
popular attraction to meet today’s needs, while keeping the flair of the
With three weeks till opening, it appears they will be cutting it close to
be ready on time. However, with determination, they are confident
everything will be in place.
They have one year of experience under their belts, having purchased the
45-year-old facility a year ago. During their initiation, they watched and
listened to what was needed to improve the venue. To that end, they’ve
gutted the building that houses the projection room, public bathrooms and
concession stand and are excited about the outcome.
The restrooms are probably the most notable change. They are larger and
moved to each end of the building.
“People used to be lined-up outside the building waiting to use the
facilities,” Steve said. “We had to do something about that.”
More urinals were added to the men’s room and the women’s room will
have five stalls instead of two. A baby’s diaper changing station also
has been added.
An arcade will be stationed where the former women’s bathroom was
The ceilings have been covered with drywall throughout the building. In
the past, the rafters were exposed, Steve said during a tour.
The concession stand also has been dramatically expanded. The counter
space stretches about 30-feet long which will allow more foods to be
offered, Steve said. Concessions are his bailiwick, the projection room is
The brothers will be attending a food show soon to see what is new to add
to their regular fare.
“We couldn’t have even thought about it before, because there wouldn’t
have been enough space,” Steve said.
The projection room has been updated with modern equipment, no longer the
familiar two or three cameras of yore.
In the past, a projection-man would be prepared with several reels, to
change to a second or third projector in order to keep a movie running non
stop. Mike installed an up-to-date roll deck that uses only one projector.
The film is spliced together containing the entirety of both feature
movies and all commercial advertisements. It is placed on the top circular
disk that feeds via pulley to the projector and unwinds on the second deck
in order to be shown for the next night’s show.
“I only had one break last year,” Mike explained showing the souvenir
of the burned section of the film. “It was at the climax of “The
Perfect Storm,” he said, adding that the audience was patient during the
approximately 15 minutes it took to repair the film.
According to the duo, the 49er is one of only about 500 outdoor movie
theaters in the United States. In their hey-day there were about 5,000,
Steve said. They came of age in the 1950s and 1960s, but many disappeared
in the decades that followed.
Fortunately for area residents, the 49er stayed in business although the
number of shows dwindled until last year when the Cottons took it over.
“From the start we wanted to have it open seven nights a week,” said
Steve, adding that the previous owners worked with them almost all summer
making the transition a smooth one.
“They were invaluable to us,” he said. “They held our hands the
whole way through. And, even today, they are only a phone call away,” he
The 49er offers 500 parking spaces and 420 speakers. Not to worry about
not enough speakers, they said. Today, people can listen to the movie on
88.5 FM in their cars and get an incredible stereo sound.
The mechanics turned theater owners said they will keep the family
oriented tradition at the drive-in offering family movies. However, some
of the second feature films might have a more restrictive rating, but
still in good taste.
“We will never show raunchy-type movies,” Steve said. “The problem
we have is that there aren’t as many GP ratings as there are with
stricter ratings. Most of Tom Hanks films are restricted, but the films
are still considered good films,” he said.
Also in the tradition of years past, the families can come early and play
soccer, or other games with the kids before the film begins. “There is
plenty of room for that,” Steve said.
We take pride in providing a clean, family oriented activity,” he
One difference patrons will have to get accustomed to is the change in
admission fee. Instead of being charged by the car, individuals will be
charged instead. The amount has not yet been determined.