MAHONING TOWNSHIP — Earlier this spring, volunteers in Carbon County gave up their weekends to save a connection with their past.
They helped fix up the Mahoning Drive-In movie theater near Lehighton. They hoped their hard work would keep it open for summers to come.
But the theater just off Route 443 also needs $60,000 for a digital projector.
Hollywood will soon stop printing films that run on older projectors like the one at the Mahoning Drive-in.
Projectionist Mike Danchak restored the Angela Theater in Coaldale, and he also manages the Mahoning Drive-in.
He was contacted this winter by Glen Brannon of Florida.
He said Brannon claimed he had a record of saving other old theaters.
“He wanted to lease it, and then buy the (Mahoning) Drive-in,” said Danchak. “My only hope was that he would save the drive-in.”
An Action 16 Investigation found that since 2007, Brannon was involved in efforts to renovate drive-ins and theaters in three states. He also worked under the names Russell Brannan or Russel Glen, and his part in and the efforts ended abruptly.
Last spring Brannan arranged to lease, then own the Tee Pee Drive-in on historic US Route 66 near Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Just like in Carbon County, volunteers in Oklahoma worked hard to fix up the Drive in.
A TV station in Tulsa reported that Brannan set an opening date, delayed it twice, and the Tee Pee never did re-open.
Owners of the Sky-View drive-in in Kentucky, and the historic Lawford Theater in Illinois, claim Brannon operated their theaters for a short time, and left after disputes over money.
“People don`t want to sit there and listen to what I have to say in order to make things work out,” said Brannan by phone from his home in Florida.
Brannan claims he was pointing the Mahoning Drive-in toward profitability, but said he had disagreements with manager Mike Danchak over ticket prices, fund-raising plans, and promotions.
Danchak said Brannan almost cost the Mahoning Drive-in dearly, by selling 250 season passes for $59 a car load.
“If we accepted them, we would go bankrupt,” said Danchak, “because we would have nothing but passes all summer.”
Danchak said Brannan’s money-losing offer forced the theater to buy the tickets back, leaving the Mahoning Drive-in with just $5,000, and time is running out to get the $60,000 projector.
Brannan calls his actions, smart marketing, claiming he brought buzz to a dying drive-in
“I`m sore because here this theater was going to close,” said Brannan, “and I got people that had never known that the theater was still open excited about it.”
As a result of the actions, Mike Danchak said he has scaled back expectations of keeping the Mahohing Drive-in open after this year.
He said he hopes to find a used digital projector for a fraction of the cost of a new one.