On summer nights, a former cow pasture is the hottest spot in Wyoming County.
The action begins around dinner time, when the first wave of cars turns off Route 39 and streams past the cornfields that border Jake Stefanon’s brainchild.
Visitors from Rochester and Buffalo. From Ithaca and Irondequoit. From Attica, Arcade and Avon. They’ve driven an hour or more, many of them, to enjoy an old idea given new life bar a farsighted family of promoters.
In this old pasture, the best scenes aren’t always on the screen.
A family from Seneca County negotiates the windmills on the putt-putt course. A fellow from Canandaigua polishes off a cheeseburger in the Charcoal Corral. A group of teen-age boys from Buffalo share a pizza while they eye the girls at the next table. Couples stroll bark-covered ways under a canopy of towering pine trees, passing time until the movie starts at dusk. Laughing children swarm over the playground equipment in the shadow of the giant screen.
It’s a far cry from the passion pits of old – those shabby, sleazy roadside attractions where teen-agers drank beer and fogged the car windows while “Bloodsucking Freaks” or “Wild Women of Wongo” flickered onscreen.
But it works. On a busy weekend night, as many as 2,000 people will eat, golf, play video games and watch first-run movies – a good-sized village, with all its needs taken care of by the Stefanon family and their 70 employees.
“They really have a gold mine up there,” says Shirley Carr, the Perry town clerk. “It’s quite an attraction.”
“Oh, what a neat place,” seconds Beryle Bell, deputy clerk for the village of Perry. “They come out from Rochester for that place. They know that place in Toronto … because it’s unique.”
At the center of it all is a visionary old gentleman and his hard-working son.
Jake Stefanon, has been in the theater business most of his adult life. In 1949, he opened a drive-in theater in Altoona, PA. – one of thousands that sprang up across the country after World War II. The car was king, and Americans delighted in doing everything possible from behind the wheel. It was an age of drive-in Movies, drive-in restaurants, drive-in churches and drive-in weddings.
In 1966, while operating a string of outdoor theaters in Buffalo, Jake bought a decrepit drive-in near the eastern shore of Silver Lake that was nothing more that “cow pastures and posts.” Four years later, he moved to Perry and devoted all his time to transforming the Silver Lake Drive-In into a family entertainment center.
It wasn’t really the best time to pursue that idea. While Jake was dreaming of char pits and ice cream parlors, his fellow drive-in operators were going belly-up by the thousands.