By Elizabeth Perry
Moon’s Dependable Drive-in is a survivor, adapting over the years to remain a community staple since its opening in 1950.
Seventy-three years later on a Friday night in July 2023, the drive-in was packed with families and couples on dates, much like they would have been when the theater first opened.
Patron Mark Thomas, 33, attended with his date, Kirsten Davis. Thomas had been coming to Dependable Drive-in with his family since he was too young to remember, while his date, Kirsten Davis was there for the first time.
“I’ve been here 10 minutes,” Davis said.
They were both there to see “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” along with other patrons who were heading to the concession stand, children playing ball with each other or sitting in camp chairs near their vehicles. Davis had only been to a drive-in once before but was game to try out the experience. Thomas said he was too young to remember his first movie at Dependable, but he did recall coming to the movies in one of his dad’s classic cars. He said his favorite part of other visits was lying in the back of the truck under the stars and watching a movie, while novice Davis said her favorite part was just doing something outside with someone she liked.
“It’s a great place, it’s awesome that it’s still going,” Thomas said.
Richard “Pat” Springer, owner of the Dependable Coal Company, created the drive-in in 1950 as part of an entertainment complex designed to repurpose the land.
“This was actually a strip mine,” Dependable Drive-in Manager Jay Glaus said.
The tiered space left over from mining out coal was ideal for a drive-in movie theater. As detailed in Springer’s 2007 obituary, there was a driving range behind the drive-in, a playground and two ponds where people could pay to fish. The Betty Grable musical, “When My Baby Smiles at Me,” was the first film played at the theater. Back then, there were more than 30 area drive-ins and Jay Glaus said the Moon Township theater was open 365 days a year.
In the early 1970s, the drive-In was purchased by John Glaus under the name Regal Amusements, then run by his son, Rick Glaus.
In the mid-1970s the theater started showing pornographic films, a trend that occurred nationwide in response to the gas crisis, according to the New York Film Academy.
A 1973 article in the Pittsburgh Press detailed the story of Catherine Evanko, a neighbor who gathered more than 600 signatures of people opposed to showing adult films at Dependable Drive-in. Evanko said then that cars would line Moon-Clinton Road to take in the films for free, causing a driving hazard.
By 1988 many were wondering aloud if the drive-in customer base for adult films had been eroded by the availability of X-rated titles on videotape. At that time, owner Rick Glaus was quoted in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article as saying home video hadn’t hurt adult film attendance too much, but by the 1990s the theater was back to showing mainstream films only.
Jay Glaus said in the 1990s the outdoor theater added a second and third screen, and was only open part of the year. An article from the time-period said families were flocking to the drive-in again to enjoy children’s films.
In the aughts, Jay Glaus said a fourth screen was added and the drive-in began operating year-round again.
Generally between 20-30 people are employed at the drive-in, tearing tickets, doing clean-up or working the concession stand.
“A lot of people come back year after year just for weekends to work,” said Glaus who is the 30-year-old son of Rick Glaus.
He has worked there for about 15 or 16 years himself.
“I’m like a stray cat, I keep coming back,” Glaus said.
There are people who show up all year round to watch movies outside, including a couple who like to open the sunroof on their car and let the snow come down upon them, Glaus.
In 2020, Dependable Drive-in became the rare business that benefited from pandemic restrictions. As in years past, management adapted to the times.
“We were open when everything else was closed,” Jay Glaus said.
COVID-19 protections were established immediately; concessions became available only by calling ahead, and cars were spaced further apart. The drive-in hosted many high school graduations, and let the students project photos and memories on the screens. They were also host to the American Advertising Awards show and music acts like Metallica.
Jay Glaus said during this era, the business gained more notoriety, and more people began coming to the drive-in for the first time.
If you’d like to be one of them, or if you’d like to revisit an old favorite spot, the list of shows can be found at https://www.dependabledrivein.com/.