'The End' for Cottage Grove drive-in theater

9:54 PM, Oct 13, 2012   |    comments
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Cottage View Drive-In theater entrance

COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. --  Friday night the cars began to line up outside the gates to the Cottage View Drive-in Theater in this south metro suburb.

Some came for nostalgia, to recapture fading memories.  Others returned to share a childhood experience with their own children, born in the era of the shopping center multi-plex.

One of only six remaining drive-ins In Minnesota, the Cottage View's screen will go dark one last time Saturday night. 

After 46 years of family fun under the stars, the land where movie fans parked became more valuable as commercial real estate.  This spot, on the southern edge of this Twin Cities suburb, will soon yield to a Wal-Mart store.

"My parents use to bring me here when I was a child," Jason Yerke of Glencoe told KARE. "I figured since it's closing up I would bring my son for the last time."

Tom Spratte of Rochester said he was visiting the Cottage View for the first time, but had fond memories of the two drive-ins in his hometown.

"One is now a lumber yard and the other is a warehouse," Spratte said.

"I went on line this week and saw it's the last weekend forever, and I thought Friday night we got to come up, no matter what's playing we had to be here."

The final weekend's offerings included the animated horror spoof "Hotel Transylvania" and "The Amazing Spiderman."

Some of the first-time visitors said they wanted to catch of glimpse of a vanishing piece of 20th Century nostalgia, dating to a time when people crowded into cars for the bargain of catching a double feature for the price of one show.

"I told my little daughter we're going to go to the movie tonight, and she said that's going to be great!," Jay Poucher told KARE. "I said we're going to be able to drive our truck into the theater and she just looked at me like, what??"

Don Slack  of Cottage Grove said he hadn't been to the theater for decades, but wanted to bring his grandson Colin there to celebrate his birthday.

"Ghost was probably the last time I was here, with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore," Slack recalled, "And as soon as the closing credits rolled it started pouring rain. It was wild!"

The lobby is much like it was on opening day in 1966, as is the cuisine of popcorn, hot dogs and pizza.

"If you look inside the lobby it's one of the things that, people that have been away for a long time they come back in and, they're like, it's just how I remembered it," theater manager Ed Stofferahn told KARE.

He said the vintage projector still gets the job done, but Hollywood's is moving away from the 35-millimeter film format. Converting to the new digital standard is too pricey, in an era when tracts of land on the fringes of suburbs is worth more as real estate.

The theater is now part of the Mann Theaters chain, but the land is still owned by the Gerry Herringer, who launched the Cottage View in 1966.

He had originally planned to open the theater in 1965, but the storm that became known as "the Fridley tornado" damaged one of his other theaters, the Hunter Twin.

"He spent that year rebuilding the Hunter Twin," Stofferahn explained, "So the Cottage View didn't open until the following year."

Stofferahn's wife Barb has worked at the Cottage View in various capacities since 1969.

"It's sad to see it go. It truly is the end of an era," Barb told KARE.

"But it did have a really good, long run here."

She said her favorite film of all that were screened at the Cottage View was, "E.T. The Extra Terrestrial."  It played the entire season in 1982.

The theater now abuts a neighborhood, which didn't exist in the 1960's.  The first film to play there was Stanley Kramer's comedy "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World!" starring a huge ensemble cast headed by Spencer Tracy.

At the peak of the drive-in era there were 87 outdoor theaters in Minnesota.  When the Cottage View goes dark, only five will remain, including the Vali-Hi in Lake Elmo.

The other four are outside the metro, in the towns of Litchfield, Luverne, Long Prairie and Warren.

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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