Editorial: Cascade's closing a sad ending for West Chicago drive-in
"Forget Disneyland being the happiest place on earth," drive-in movie theater owner Mike Kerz told film critic Dann Gire last spring. "That's the drive-ins."
Overstated? Perhaps. But those who grew up watching movies in their cars surely have memories as warm as the summer they first checked out a local drive-in.
That's why news that West Chicago's Cascade Drive-In would be closing hit suburbanites so hard last week.
The Cascade's future had been in doubt. Though the drive-in had been around since 1961, owners of the land along North Avenue have been trying to sell the site.
Cascade owner Jeff Kohlberg said his lease was up Dec. 31 and -- though he had hoped to stay in business -- the drive-in would not open for the "2019 season and beyond," thus joining so many other American drive-ins on what Gire called "the slow road to extinction."
Once, drive-ins dotted the suburbs. Among them were the 53 Drive-In just outside of Palatine, the Twin Drive-In in Wheeling, the Starview in Elgin, the Hi-Lite in Aurora and the Grayslake Outdoor Theater.
Now, only the McHenry Outdoor Theater remains.
In 1958, there were 4,063 drive-ins in the U.S. There are now about 330, according to driveinmovie.com. Fewer than a dozen remain in Illinois.
Drive-ins maintain a special place in the memories of many. Some remember them as gathering spots to watch family films with the kids. Others nurture less G-rated recollections. Either way, it's heartbreaking to see this slice of iconic Americana fade from view.
Kerz, a longtime Buffalo Grove resident, bought the Midway Drive-In in Sterling in 2007. He cited nostalgia as one of the reasons people still seek out drive-ins.
"It's an experience that transports you back to an earlier time when families loaded into the car and headed off to see the movies," Kerz told Gire. "People will drive one or even two hours to get to a drive-in."
More and more these days, they have to.
The McHenry Outdoor Theater -- which opened in 1951 as the Skyline -- begins another season on April 26. Owner Scott Dehn attributes his theater's survival to both a conversion to digital nearly five years ago and his purchase of the property to ensure it won't be developed.
We're glad to hear that. And we hope the last surviving suburban drive-in will be around for many more years to come.