Created in the 1920’s, drive-in movie theaters were once a staple of rural communities, counting more than 4,000 theaters nationwide at the height of their popularity in the 1960’s and 70’s. Today, less than 10% of those theaters still exist, and we are fortunate to have one right here in Tiffin, Ohio.
The Tiffin Drive-In Theater opened in 1949 and will celebrate its 70th year in continuous operation next summer. Current owners Rod and Donna Saunders purchased the theater in 2011, when the previous owners decided to retire from the business. The Saunders’ got their start in the drive-in theater business with the original Field of Dreams Drive-In, which they built in the backyard of their family home in Liberty Center as a way to provide an inclusive family entertainment experience, and they were excited at the prospect of expanding this venture.
After purchasing the long-time Tiffin establishment, the Saunders’ immediately set about making improvements to the theater and its grounds, including the purchase of a new projector, the addition of a second screen, updates to the concession stand and its equipment, and the transition from film to digital movies in 2013. In 2018, the name was reverted to Tiffin Drive-In Theater.
Their next big project is restoring the original neon sign. When the theater opened in 1949, it featured a large neon sign affixed to the back of the screen, facing SR 53. The neon was removed in the 1970’s due to maintenance concerns. In 2017, the Saunders’ began working with local neon artist Michael Flechtner to recreate the original neon sign. To this end, the Saunders have created the Historic Drive-In Theater Revitalization Fund, a non-profit organization with IRC Section 501(c)(3) status for the sole purpose of fundraising to repair iconic symbols of operational drive-in theaters in Ohio. Find more information or make a donation here.