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Hundreds turn out to bid farewell to Cottage View Drive-in (W/VIDEO)

Cottage View Drive-In owner Gerry Herringer joins a crowd beneath the big screen in waving as a photo is taken at the theater's farewell celebration Thursday. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente2 / 5
A young moviegoer lays on top of a car to watch "Grease" at the Cottage View Drive-In farewell celebration. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente3 / 5
Cottage Grove Mayor Myron Bailey listens with a smile from the film room as Cottage View Drive-In attendees honk their horns to celebrate the theater before a screening of "Grease." Bulletin photo by Scott Wente4 / 5
Hundreds of peopled turned out for a screening of "Grease" Thursday as the Cottage View Drive-In prepares to close in October for good after a 46-year run. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente5 / 5

In many ways, the Cottage View Drive-In farewell celebration felt like the theater's early days some four decades ago.

Hundreds of people turned out Thursday to say goodbye to the theater that will close its doors for good in the coming weeks after a 46-year run. The 900-space parking lot was roughly three-quarters full as collector cars from the mid-1960s and other eras pulled in alongside sedans, pick-up trucks and vans.

Fans of outdoor movies and low-cost family entertainment showed up: Couples who remember the drive-in's early years. Teenagers who recalled the first movie they saw on the big screen. Young children whose parents went on dates to the drive-in.

There was pre-movie entertainment as "Elvis" crooned and swung his hips from beneath the giant screen and "Marilyn Monroe" strutted around the drive-in lot, stopping to pose for photos. Children ran around playing, women wore mid-1960s-era poodle skirts and more than 50 people participated in a costume contest. When the sun went down, the screen lit up with a sing-along version of the classic "Grease."

Theater-goers recalled their own early trips to the drive-in, some decades ago and others much more recent.

Paul and Donna Klinkenberg have been going to the Cottage View and other drive-in theaters since the mid-1970s. They brought their two children to the Cottage View years ago.

"The crowds were pretty good size," Paul Klinkenberg remembered. "It was bumper to bumper."

Across the parking lot, Mark Miller and Bri Semo were set up with blankets and a good view of the big screen. They stood atop their vehicle to snap photos together before the sun went down.

"Our first date was here," Semo, 22, said. That was just two years ago, but Miller remembered going to the drive-in as a kid.

The drive-in will close for good within a few weeks. Herringer is selling a 22-acre parcel that includes part of the drive-in land. Walmart plans to build a Supercenter on the site.

But before the drive-in closes, city officials and others wanted to give the theater a community send-off.

The farewell celebration was organized largely by Cottage Grove Economic Development Director Danette Parr with other city staff and in conjunction with drive-in owner Gerry Herringer and Mann Theatres owner Steve Mann.

The organizers were thrilled.

"I'm really gratified by the turnout," Herringer said as he looked out over the parking lot. "I think it testifies to the feeling people have about the place."

Herringer used the drive-in's stereo system to address the crowd, thanking them for showing up and offering an abbreviated history of the local landmark, which he started with his father in 1966.

"We obviously believe strongly in the drive-in theater concept--inexpensive, family oriented entertainment coupled with America's love for the automobile," Herringer said. "This was a natural."

Herringer said at one time he operated five drive-in theaters around the Twin Cities. The others have been closed for years, and he said he could count on two hands the number of people he heard from when the others were shuttered.

"The Cottage View is obviously a whole different breed of cat," Herringer said.

Drive-ins have a "nostalgia factor," he said. "It gives us a few moments of looking back at the good old days."

Time takes its toll, including on the drive-in, he said.

Herringer paused and teared up.

"But if a drive-in could smile, this fantastic turnout would certainly make the Cottage View grin," he said. "Thank you all. Please enjoy the show."

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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