Skyborn Drive-in: An old-fashioned family business


FAIRBORN — For many people who have been longtime residents of Fairborn, the Skyborn Drive-in Theatre is a place of memories.

For 65 years, children and adults spent their nights watching old family films and the latest releases while munching some popcorn or a sandwich from the snack bar.

For Ann Kinsel Wright, however, the Skyborn Drive-in Theatre is more than that. Her father, Delber Kinsel, moved to Fairborn as part of a job transfer. He built the theatre in 1950 on the land of his family farm, and worked at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as an accountant. In today’s terminology, the theatre could be described as Delber’s passion project. In timeless terminology, the theatre was a good old-fashioned family business.

Delber was in charge of operating the projector. The mechanism for such took up an entire room. His job was to load each of the film reels into the projector, each about the size of a dinner plate. Many movies were long enough to be on more than one reel, so the theatre would have a 15 minute intermission while the reel was changed.

Oftentimes, the noise of planes taking off and landing at Wright-Patterson would interrupt the films. The roar of jet engines easily drowned out the absurdist voices of Abbott and Costello. On the fourth of July, they would shoot off fireworks from the theatre’s lot, and once movie-goers bore witness to the Northern Lights.

As a girl, Wright helped her grandparents run the snack bar. From the age of 13, her job was to fill boxes of popcorn.

“To me it was more than just a job,” she said. “We had fun.”

Sometimes, she was allowed to put movie passes in the boxes of popcorn to let her friends into the theatre for free. Wright’s grandmother would make ham or Sloppy Joe sandwiches to sell as well.

Wright’s mother was in charge of running the ticket booth. Most days, the job was uneventful. One day, however, she was at the booth when two men decided they were going to rob the theatre.

The first thing she did was twist her wedding ring around her finger so the thieves wouldn’t see the diamond in her ring. She told them she had an alarm button she had already pushed, and that someone was already on their way to get them. Panicked, the robbers left empty-handed.

Gordon Wright, Ann Wright’s high school sweetheart, grew up down the street from the Kinsels, and would ride his bike to the theater to visit. Ann Wright’s grandma would always have a Sloppy Joe sandwich ready for him.

“I always managed to sneak out (or so I thought) to visit Gordon and watch the movie until intermission,” Ann Wright said.

The two graduated from the Ohio State University in 1962 and were married the same year.

Today, Wright has been gone from the Fairborn area for nearly 50 years. She currently lives in Texas near two of her children, but has spoken with the Fairborn Area Historical Society about their efforts to preserve the Skyborn Drive-in marquee sign.

“It’s weird to think of it as a historical object,” she said. “To me, it’s just the sign of our family business.”

The FAHS is still in need of donations to preserve the sign and keep it from being taken out of the city of Fairborn. Though the deadline for the sign’s removal is fast approaching, representatives of the society are confident that they will be able to keep this piece of history in the local area.

Donations to FAHS can be mailed to P.O. Box 1483, Fairborn, Ohio, 45324, or by phone at 937-689-0956.

File photo The Skyborn Drive-in Theatre is full of memories for people like Ann Kinsel Wright. photo The Skyborn Drive-in Theatre is full of memories for people like Ann Kinsel Wright.

By London Bishop

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Reach London Bishop at (937) 502-4532

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