Puget Park Drive-In theater closing to make way for Swedish emergency room

Puget Park Drive-In, Snohomish County’s last drive-in theater, won’t even get a final curtain call.

It opened in 1971, the year “The French Connection” and “The Last Picture Show” were nominated for Academy Awards.

When it was shuttered last fall, after a triple showing of “Nine,” “The Proposal” and “District 9,” the drive-in was fated never to open again. The land, near the intersection of I-5 and 128th Street SE in south Everett, was just too valuable.

News of Swedish Health Services of Seattle opening a $30 million stand-alone emergency room at the spot overshadowed the loss of the landmark theater and a way of life for many Snohomish County residents.

The three-story building is expected to be constructed near the spot where the theater’s red-and-blue snack bar now sits. Construction could begin as early as next month.

The drive-in was a throwback, and for many customers that was part of its charm.

“The drive-in is like a dinosaur. … A lot of kids don’t know what one is,” said Cherl Redenius of Arlington who grew up in a house just west of the drive-in.

“Especially today, with other media options and ways to watch movies, on the iPhone or iPod, Netflix and Blockbusters, DVRs and downloading, why would they want to go sit in the cold of their car?” she asked.

For all the practical reasons for not seeing a movie in a drive-in, you do lose out on a unique movie-watching experience.

“There’s something to be said for that experience, sitting outside and listening (to the movie) through a fuzzy speaker,” she said.

Gene Goosman, who grew up in Mountlake Terrace and now lives in Mukilteo, said one of his best memories was taking his family to the theater in his 28-foot motor home in the late 1970s.

“It was during the gas crunch time,” he said. “Gas was hard to get.”

So they put a crib in the motor home for the baby. He and laid his 2-year-old son along the motor home’s long dashboard.

“We pretended we were on vacation,” Goosman said. “It was like taking your living room to the movies.”

Drive-ins are closing because they take up a lot of land and you need to have a lot of customers for the business to make money, said David Schooler, president of Sterling Reality Organization Co. in Bellevue, which until recently owned Puget Park.

His SRO company, which included the Grand Cinemas at Alderwood, was once the largest theater exhibitor in Washington, he said.

The company’s businesses also included a Longview drive-in, which closed about 15 years ago.

“A lot of people got upset,” Schooler said. “There was protest in downtown Longview. More people were in the protest than had been going to the movies.”

The company thought about having some sort of goodbye showing at Puget Park, “but if you run it in the winter, nobody’s going to come,” Schooler said. “So probably not.”

Bobbi Rayes, who managed the drive-in since 1993, said that even as the season closed last year, she still hoped a way would be found to reopen it this year.

The drive-in operated from May to September, offering double features. It was also the home to a swap meet, which operated on weekends from April to October and was managed by her sister, Lorna Combs.

Overall, Rayes has worked for SRO for more than two decades, following her parents in the theater business. “I’ve been very blessed. It’s been a wonderful opportunity,” she said. “There’s not a whole lot of people who did what their parents did for the same company.”

The drive-in could draw 600 or more cars a night. Over the years, the theater switched from speakers that hung from the edge of rolled-up car windows to having the movie’s dialogue broadcast on a local FM signal so it could be picked up on car radios.

Hundreds of teens, including her own two children, had summer jobs at the theater.

Of all the films she’s seen over the years, she rates Johnny Depp in the various “Pirates” movies and the Transformers movies among her favorites.

“It’s really hard; this has been in my family for a long time,” she said.

“It’s just such as fun place. It’s so sad.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486, salyer@heraldnet.com.

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