From ‘Texas Rangers’ to ‘Spiderman’: Garden Drive-In in Hunlock Creek turns 65

HUNLOCK CREEK — One of the last bastions of Americana is still a marque attraction in Luzerne County.

The Garden Drive-In turned 65 on Tuesday, and Doug and Kim Barbacci — who have owned the Route 11 facility for the past 30 years — will celebrate the milestone this summer appropriately.

“We will do what we do every week — show movies,” Doug said. “Maybe we’ll have some fireworks later in the year, maybe in August.”

Don’t misunderstand: Doug and Kim take their business seriously in the funnest of ways.

“We like to keep things business as usual,” Doug said. “We always want to show good movies, and we hope people keep coming for 65 more years.”

Doug said he is overwhelmed when he thinks about his customers, many of whom came to the Garden when they were kids and who now bring their children and grandchildren to see movies at the property along the Susquehanna River.

The only other drive-in theater still open in Luzerne County is the Laurel in Hazleton. Meanwhile, a developer has said he hopes to reopen the Moonlight Drive-In in West Wyoming, which has been closed for more than 30 years.

The first-ever showing at the Garden Drive-In was “The Texas Rangers,” starring George Montgomery and Gale Storm, on July 11, 1952. Last weekend, “Spiderman Homecoming,” “Transformers” and “Despicable Me 3” were drawing the biggest crowds.

West Nanticoke resident Tina Seiwell said she is a big fan of the Garden.

“I think it’s great for the kids; the kids love it,” she said. “It’s jam-packed. I think everyone should go.”

Ironically, the Barbaccis purchased the Garden property three decades ago with no intention of opening a theater. They were going to locate another business there, but as fate would have it, the show kept going on.

“Yeah, we were going to close it,” Doug said of the theater. “But we had a year or two of planning to do following the purchase, so we started running it as a drive-in and customers kept coming. It was obvious they liked going to the drive-in.”

As of June 2016, there were only 324 drive-in theaters in the United States — 28 in Pennsylvania with 48 screens — according to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association. The peak number was 4,063 in 1958.

Dave Hudzik, who has worked at the Garden since 1979, said most local drive-ins have closed because of land value. For example, the site of the former Wilkes-Barre Drive-In is now home to Sam’s Club and Kohl’s, while the Commerford Drive-In in Dupont is now a Walmart.

Doug said said he and his wife are happy to still be in the drive-in theater business.

“It’s old-fashioned entertainment with the newest technology,” he said. “We thank all the folks who come, and that’s really why we do it. Our customers are so gracious and they really enjoy it, so we feel obligated to keep it going.”

Doug said he and his wife are always conscious of the cost to families, so they strive to keep prices as affordable as possible.

“And we will always be that way,” he said.

Movies are shown at the Garden every Friday, Saturday and Sunday starting at sundown. Two movies are shown for one price — $8 for adults and $5 for children. The property has two screens.

Times Leader news partner Fox56 contributed to this report.

Christian Romig, 11, with Jason and Kristi Hart of Berwick, get comfortable while waiting for the feature movie to start at the Garden Drive-In.

A newspaper clipping from the Mountain Echo lists the first movies shown at the Garden Drive-In.

A Mountain Echo clipping announces the opening of the drive-in.

A family sitting on fold-out chairs and blankets watches a movie at the Garden Drive-In along Route 11 in Hunlock Creek.

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