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Leeds Open Air Theatre was located in Leeds, New York

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Leeds Open Air Theatre
Status: Demolished
Location: Green Lake Road, Leeds, NY 12451
Screens: 1
Capacity: 200 cars plus walk-in outdoor seating
Original owner: Built by Paul Marcelli.
Opening date: August 2, 1945
Final season: 1959
What's there now: Unknown.

This page was last updated on December 3, 2009.

The following is the timeline of the Leeds Drive-In as conveyed to me by the original property owners, the Van Vechten family. The site is on the Catskill Creek in the hamlet of Leeds in the town of Catskill. Adjacent is a historic stone arch bridge that brings Route 23B across the creek. At this location owned by the Van Vechten family the bank of the creek is made of solid shale polished smooth by eons of rushing water. Hence the property is known as Slippery Rock and has been used as a public swimming area for many decades.                

It is conveniently off the main street of Leeds, which was dotted with many boarding houses that were frequented by summer tourists from the New York City area and primarily of Irish ancestry. Oftentimes parents would drop off their children to swim while they spent time in one of the Irish pubs on the main street. The Van Vechtens never charged to let people swim at Slippery Rock but around 1930 they built a rudimentary concession stand where hotdogs and such were sold. In 1933 this building was replaced by a small stone refreshment stand that still stands today.

In 1940 they started operation of a walk-in outdoor theatre at the site, again served by the same refreshment stand. That first season patron seating was alongside of the creek where a projector would shoot its beam across the creek onto a fabric screen hung from trees on the opposite shore. At the end of the show a rowboat would traverse the creek and the fragile fabric screen would be rolled up until the following evening when the screen would be unfurled again. The following year a permanent rigid screen face similar to what you would expect at a drive-in theatre but supported by existing mature trees was built on the same side of the creek as the patron seating.

In 1945 the hillside above the movie screen was graded to make ramps for viewing from cars, marking the start of the Leeds Drive-In Theatre. Initially sound was by blast speakers near the screen but they eventually installed speaker boxes mounted on posts between the parked cars. Beyond the back row of the drive-in theatre is an old cemetery where some people would go to watch the movies without paying. The Leeds Drive-In Theatre ceased operation around 1959. Today there are not many clues as to its previous use. The stone refreshment stand is there and the terracing of the hillside lawn for the car ramps is evident. The projection booth is long gone but you can see where the movie projector was attached to the solid rock on the shoreline that first season as a walk-in theatre.

By Ed Caro, Malta Drive-in Owner

 

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Topo Map from 1980, provided courtesy of TerraServer USA. Aerial image from 1994, courtesy of TerraServer USA. Aerial image from 2006 courtesy of Google Earth. Grand opening ad from the Green County Examiner-Recorder on July 26, 1945.
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Article from the Green County Examiner-Recorder on August 23, 1945. New look ad from the Green County Examiner-Recorder on July 26, 1948. Aad from the Green County Examiner-Recorder on June 20, 1956. Leeds Drive-in program outside cover from 1949, courtesy of Ed Caro.
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Leeds Drive-in program inside cover from 1949, courtesy of Ed Caro. Leeds Drive-in playcard from 1957, courtesy of Ed Caro.    

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