The Belmont Auto Theatre...

Rate this item
(7 votes)
Belmont Auto Theater Belmont Auto Theater

Formerly at the southeast corner of the intersection at Shakertown Road was the Belmont Auto Theatre.  Whether with a butter-saturated paper grocery sack full of delicious, coconut oil popped popcorn or a cooler full of Little Kings, going to the Belmont Auto Theatre was always a memorable night!  Often it'd be so hot you'd stick to the vinyl, rear-facing seat of the LTD wagon.  Make the trip past the ticket gate in the trunk or huddled up on the floor board became a sport of its own!  The Belmont Auto Theatre operated until 1997 and was demolished in 1998.

Thanks to our friends at Dayton History Books:

Belmont Auto Theatre

Maxwell A. Milbauer and his wife, Emma, enjoyed entertaining children in the Belmont area by showing 16 mm movies on a large sheet that hung in their back yard. On one particular evening Elvin Doll, and his wife Edith, came over to watch a movie. Max and Elvin, who worked together at the Hyland Machine Company, had talked a few times before about beginning a business of their own, but hadn’t really thought of any venture that suited them yet. Edith remarked that perhaps they should open an outdoor theater where people could watch a movie in the comfort of their car. The two men agreed that this was a good idea and brought in another co-worker, Joe Flory.

“But when they built the Belmont Auto they got into trouble quickly, declares Elvin and Edith Doll’s son, Alan, who was general manager of B.A.C. Theatres from 1966 to 1979. “Miller Brothers (Excavating) was out there building for them and they just practically got into a monsoon. They had a terrible time trying to build that place. They about went out of business before they even got started because the weather wasn’t on their side. The weather was really bad, they got stuck in the mud, literally, and they had to bring in another partner, which was Al Foor. And they were trying to make a go of it and they just couldn’t do it and ran out of money. They’ve got Miller out there with that big equipment. So they brought in Kenny Curp. Next thing you know they still didn’t have enough so they brought in Bill Swaney.” This was the beginning of the Belmont Amusement Company, later to be known as B.A.C. Theatres.

“We built the business on a shoestring, and did a lot of the work ourselves,” laughs Joe Flory. This included mixing the concrete for the bases of the speaker posts, as well as pouring and finishing the floor of the concession stand.

Finally, as the theater neared completion, August 6, 1947 was chosen for the grand opening date.

“We even sent out invitations,” says Flory. “Unfortunately, up came a big storm. Dayton Power and Light didn’t have the electricity hooked up yet, we were running that close to getting open. They came out and it was lightning and thundering. They didn’t want to go up the pole and I didn’t blame them so we had to cancel the opening night.”

The Belmont Auto Theater finally opened at 2060 County Line Road in Dayton, on August 7, 1947. The Belmont would become the first drive-in in the area to introduce stereophonic sound, car heaters, 3-D movies and CinemaScope, and one of the few one-screen theaters to offer two concession stands. One sat in the middle row and another was placed in the back.

In 1954 the Belmont added new sections to its original screen to make a CinemaScope screen 96’ wide and 65’ high. It was the second largest in the country at the time, surpassed only by Sherwood Twin’s new 100’ x 65’ screen. Belmont’s projection screen was nearly three times as wide as the CinemaScope screens in downtown Dayton’s indoor theaters, which averaged thirty-five to forty feet across.
To celebrate the new screen the owners booked a new 3-D Rita Hayworth movie entitled ‘Miss Sadie Thompson’, “which, to say the least, should bring out all the young lady’s advertised dimensions”, noted Journal Herald’s film critic A. S. Kany.

Since the 3-D process needed two projectors to run at the same time, an intermission was usually needed during the film so that the projectors could be reloaded to show the second part of the movie. According to Alan Doll, Max wanted to be able to show a 3-D movie without any interruptions.

“Max was a fellow who wanted do to everything and do it right. So Belmont because the first drive-in to be able to do a 3-D change over without intermission. They had four projectors rather than just two.”

At first Twentieth Century Fox, which controlled the new CinemaScope process, refused to release C-Scope films to any drive-in that did not have a stereo sound system. Such a setup was an expensive investment, since it would entail a two box speaker system that allowed a patron to have a speaker for each side of the car. Seeing how well the CinemaScope films were being received in downtown theaters, the Belmont purchased stereophonic sound equipment.

“In order to have stereo you couldn’t just have two speakers per car,” says Alan. “That really didn’t give you stereo. You had to have special equipment inside the concession stand, there in the projection booth. They had all that. It was true stereo. They were the only drive-in I know east of the Mississippi that had stereo.”

The first movie to be shown was CinemaScope’s ‘Beneath the 12-Mile Reef’ on May 23, 1954. Unfortunately, Twentieth Century Fox soon changed its mind and began allowing drive-ins without stereo systems to show C-Scope movies and Belmont’s monopoly of this type of movie came to an end.

The Belmont eventually became a year-round drive-in. It was the first in the area to offer car heaters for use in the winter.

“When you entered the Belmont Auto you went to the box office. But, also, as you went through, there was a garage to the left. That’s where they gave out the heaters,” Alan Doll recalls. “Then as you exited the theater you had an office where you dropped off the heaters. And then during the day the maintenance man would move them all back to the other building. In the heyday of the Belmont there would be snow out the kazoo and that place would be packed. I remember as a kid handing those things out. It was exciting.”

In 1977 the Belmont brought back stereo sound with the showing of “The man Who Fell to Earth” and “Zardog”. The stereo system had not been used for a number of years, but after investing $30,000 to rebuild the system it was good as new. At the time it was reported as being the only known drive-in to still have stereophonic sound.

The last few years the stereo speakers were replaced with newer technology. Patrons tuned in their car radios to an AM frequency to listen to the movie. The car heaters were also gone, being too expensive to maintain.

In 1983 the Miami Valley Research Park bought the land from B.A.C. Theatres as part of a future plan to build a 1250 acre research park. The drive-in was operated for them by the Chakeres Theaters throughout he 1997 season.

Unfortunately, as is happening more and more, the land became too valuable to keep as a drive-in. In the spring of 1998, even as I was finishing the final draft of the first edition of this book, the Belmont was being torn down. Many will miss it.

Sidebar comments in book about the Belmont:

The original screen tower burnt down in 1948. “We had our office under the tower,” says Joe Flory, who arrived at the scene dressed only in his trousers. “I had a key to the door in my hand and was started toward the office door when the whole front of the screen tower blew off. I remembered that while we were building it a piece of the cement board got away from us and fell down, hitting a 2x4 and almost cutting it in two. That was in my mind as the boards started popping off the front of the screen. I just turned and got out of there.”

The Belmont Auto could be a very busy place, according to Joe Flory. “Once we showed ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. Before the movie ever started, we were filled up. Traffic was backed up from the theater all the way down Patterson Road. All we could do was wave them on past.” Although speakers were available along the side fences, there were times when patrons waiting to see the second show had to park in a nearby field until the first movie was over.

This sign above the ticket booth was left from the days when electric car heaters were offered to patrons of the Belmont theater. The heaters allowed the Belmont to be open year round. Unfortunately, they were expensive to run and maintain, so theaters did away with them. Gone were the days of cuddling together on a December night while watching a romantic movie under the stars.

The Belmont Auto eventually expanded to thirteen rows. The theater had two concession stands, something rarely done at a drive-in with only one screen. In the 1950’s a large box was attached to a three-wheeled Cushman motor scooter, which was used to deliver sandwiches, popcorn and other items on the menu to patrons in their cars. Popcorn was a favorite item, says Zelma Flory. “We used to stick free passes to the theater in the popcorn boxes every so often as we filled them. One season we put three tons of raw popcorn through the popper.”

In 1977, a 30th anniversary celebration of the theater was held. Maxwell Milbauer, who had passed away, was honored by Alan Doll. A sculptured bust of Max was unveiled, the memorial reading ‘A leader in showmanship whose insight made this theatre possible.’ A drawing for a stereo set (to remind everyone that the Belmont had been the first theater to offer stereo), and a fireworks display were next, followed by a special triple feature of ‘Freaky Friday’, ‘Gus’, and ‘Bite the Bullet’. “Max was big on Walt Disney and westerns. He didn’t appreciate X-type movies,” stated Alan during the celebration, a policy that he followed as well during his thirteen year tenure.

Belmont Auto Theatre’s first newspaper ad invited the public to watch ‘Three Little Girls in Blue’. A map to the drive-in was important since the Belmont was not located on a main thoroughfare.

Read 5051 times
Brett Williford

Re-introducing you to the Beavercreek you love... from 1803 to today!


Featured Image

Contact Info

Phone : 937-985-3223

Get Social