End of an Era: The Cottage View Drive-In

The drive-in came to prominence in the late 1950s for two reasons. After World War II the United States grew into a “car culture” and began traveling more than ever before. The television was still expensive and cumbersome, and had not yet found a place in the homes of America. Drive-ins offered the best of both worlds, a place for families to drive to and enjoy wholesome entertainment. America now had a place to park their car, enjoy a meal, and watch a movie.

When the Cottage View Drive-In in Cottage Grove opened its gates for the first time on August 24, 1966 it was one of nearly four thousand drive-in theaters in the United States. Boldly advertising that “you have seen the rest, now see the best” the theater boasted a gigantic one hundred and sixteen foot screen, luxurious snack bar, extra spacious ramps and parking, and a promise of solitude from the noises of Highway 61. It was designed to be a kid friendly place offering the “most complete playground in the Twin City area” as well as free admission to children under twelve years old. Opening day was packed with excitement and when dusk came movie goers sat back and enjoyed a night of laughter watching “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”. The premiere night at the Cottage View was capped off with an extravagant fireworks display at the close of the movie.

Courtesy of TwinCitiesDailyPhoto.com

A trip to the Cottage View created memories to last a lifetime. Going there to see a movie was an event that began well before dusk and everyone in the family had their part to play in the preparation. Mom popped big brown bags full of popcorn and stuffed a cooler with sandwiches and juice boxes while dad grabbed a handful of lawn chairs and put them in the trunk. The kids made sure they had their pajamas ready, grabbed a football or Frisbee, and after hearing dad yell “Hurry up, the bus is leaving!” rushed to meet their parents at the car. Once the family got to the drive-in, each member made their pitch for where they felt was the best place to park. The goal was to be at the center of the screen, a short distance from the playground, and relatively close to the bathroom – just in case. The thought of money spent to enjoy their time together never entered the conversation at the Cottage View. Families knew that they could sit back, look up at the huge screen, and enjoy themselves without having to worry about breaking the bank. A night at the Cottage View was a night of daughters sitting on their fathers lap and sharing a bag of popcorn, it was a night of watching kids throw a football back and forth, it was a night that memories were made. It was the definition of family friendly entertainment for just over forty six years.

While the Cottage View had a lot of things to love, changes in the way Americans found their entertainment left the era of the drive-in on life support. The TV had made its way into the home, and cable and satellite service offered access to more channels than an average person could ever hope to watch. The Cineplex sprung up throughout the country, giving moviegoers options that the drive-in could never hope to compete with. Movies were now shown in high definition with massive sound systems; they were louder and flashier, with comfortable seats in air conditioned rooms. People stopped going to the drive-in almost as quickly as they started. After seeing its peak in the 1960s, there now were less than four hundred in the country and only a handful of active drive-ins left in Minnesota. The land that the Cottage View sat on was now worth more to sell than it was to keep. It was the end of an era.

The last night to see a movie at the Cottage View was on October 13, 2012. A declining customer base and an opportunity for the owner to sell the land meant that this forty-six year old local piece of Americana would soon be no more. Fans of the drive-in came from all over to see “Hotel Transylvania” and “The Amazing Spiderman” and say goodbye to the Cottage View for the last time. They took advantage of the chance to make one last memory at the place that had been a part of so many memories for families for so many years. The mood of the moment was eloquently described by Al Boyce on the ‘Save the Cottage View Drive-In’ Facebook page when he wrote “The Spiderman credits rolled… and the lights went out. Everyone left in the drive-in started honking their horns in tribute. Then the sky, which had held off the rain for two movies, started slowly weeping.”

Sources:

August 24, 1966 Edition of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press

“Save the Cottage View Drive-In” Facebook Page

Matt Reicher is a History major at Metropolitan State University and the author of the local history blog “The Streets of Saint Paul.

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