A final 'The End' at the Cottage ViewAfter 46 years, the Cottage View Drive-In is no more after one last showing Saturday night.
Sara Blood, her husband and two kids were driving up Highway 61 after a Saturday spent in Red Wing when they saw the Cottage View Drive-In’s iconic red roadside sign looming ahead of them and made a decision on a whim: why not catch a movie at the fading old outdoor theater?
Good timing. Saturday marked the final night in the 46-year history of the Cottage Grove theater that has been under threat from encroaching commercial and residential development for more than a decade. Its fate was sealed in recent months when the drive-in’s owner agreed to sell the property to Walmart and the Cottage Grove City Council approved the retail giant’s plans to build a retail and grocery store.
“This was my first drive-in, when I was 10, 11 years old,” said Blood, of Golden Valley, who lived in Cottage Grove in the mid-1980s. She and her family didn’t realize it was the Cottage View’s last-ever showing until they had parked their vehicle in line along East Point Douglas Road.
“It sounds like a Joni Mitchell song,” she joked, referencing a 1970s pop hit. “They paved over a drive-in and put up a Walmart.”
On a gray, drizzly evening when the sky matched the shade of theater’s weathered, old screen, cars queued along the Highway 61 frontage road outside the theater by the dozens, lining up well before 5 p.m. for the chance to be among the last to enjoy the disappearing drive-in.
Among them were Kim and Brad Johnson, of Hastings, whose gold minivan was third in line, all the better to secure a spot front and center for the Cottage View’s final run.
Recalling the first visit she made to the Cottage View as a 10-year-old, Kim said the reason they decided to brave a chilly, gray October night was simple: “Memories,” she said. “I’ve been coming here a long time.”
Others Saturday were making their first visit to the theater that opened in August 1966 and whose closure leaves the Twin Cities with just one drive-in, the Vali-Hi in Lake Elmo.
“I always have wanted to see it,” said Sarah Broman, of Eagan, who attended with her husband and two children. “The push was to come before this one went away.”
After nearly a half–century along Highway 61, Saturday was a night of lasts. It was the last time a young employee would swing open the chain-link gate at the foot of the theater’s long, sloping driveway to allow waiting cars to stream in; the final time the iconic neon “Cottage View” would be set ablaze with the flip of a switch; the last time kids would run about the wide-open gravel lot as sunset neared; one last chance for moviegoers to pop open rear hatches of minivans and SUVs , unfold lawn chairs and unfurl blankets for a double feature beneath a blackened sky.
Phil Ethier marked the passing of the Cottage View with another kind of last: the final dead vehicle battery, resuscitated by a theater staff member’s portable charger. Ethier and wife had made the drive down from St. Paul for the final night at a theater he remembered attending in his youth.
“There’s a little bit of nostalgia,” Ethier said outside his idling SUV, its battery charging shortly before the night’s first movie began. “Do we really need another Kmart or Walmart?”
Needed or not, Walmart is on its way, set to open in 2014 as the anchor of an area city planners have long envisioned as a major retail center.
What was once an open swath of land on the edge of town that was snapped up by owner Gerry Herringer’s family business in the mid-1960s became surrounded by the slow, steady creep of suburban development. Now, that growth is set to swallow it whole.
The finality of the night hadn’t yet sunk in for Ed Stofferahn, who manages the drive-in with his wife, Barb. The two met through the drive-in business almost 20 years ago – he, the manager of the now-defunct Maple Leaf Drive-In in Maplewood; she, running operations at the nearby Cottage View.
After a busy mid-April through mid-October, he and Barb are ready for a break, Ed said Saturday as the theater’s final intermission rush swamped the small concessions building.
“It’s been a great run,” he said. “The hard part is going to be next spring when we come to open it up and it’s not here.”