Milford Drive-In builder Sidney Goodridge remembered

MILFORD – Few people around here know Sidney Goodridge’s name, but he left a legacy that has lasted more than a half century.

Goodridge, who died Nov. 26 in Florida at the age of 87, built the Milford Drive-In Theater in the 1950s between Elm Street and the Souhegan River.

Still in operation, the outdoor theater is one of the last four of its kind in New Hampshire, screening double features of first-run films on each of its two screens.

In 1958 Goodridge, a World War II Navy veteran, built a one-screen theater and he did it nearly single-handedly, said his daughter.

“That drive-in was a source of pride for him until the day he died,” said Patricia Costley, his daughter, in an email from her home in Florida. “He put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the building of that with his own hands.”

Surprisingly, Goodridge was not a movie buff, said his daughter, but “built the theater because he saw a need and really liked the concept and culture of a drive-in.”

Goodridge’s nephew, Phil Carpentiere, who now lives in Florida, remembers working in the theater with his uncle in the early 1960s, doing “a little painting” and cooking burgers and fries at the concession stand.

Sidney Goodridge’s cousin, Bob Goodridge, was his business partner, said Carpentiere, but Sidney did most of the building himself.

Sidney was “the ambitious one,” Carpentiere said in a phone interview, and installed the speaker posts and the screen and built the building that held the projection equipment, concession stand and restrooms. His uncle worked at the nearby OK Tool Company at night and would come back to the drive-in to do paperwork and pick up trash.

“His whole life was work,” said Carpentiere. A “really capable guy,” he had always wanted to establish a business, and “he was extremely proud” when he did.

The Milford Drive-In Theater opened over Memorial Day weekend in 1958. The first ad in the Cabinet appeared early in June, featuring “Pal Joey” and “Return to Warbow.”

Costley said her father was also proud of the concession stand and “how it ran like a well-oiled machine.

“There were “never waits in line, and food was always hot and fresh. He told me that people would come in just to order a pizza from the concession stand.”

In those days drive-in theaters were a big business for movie producers.

“Dad would tell me stories of how the ‘spotters’ from the movie companies would come in under cover to count cars and people,” said Costley, “ to make sure they weren’t getting shorted on the fees they were paid,” as they were paid by the number of movie-goers.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s the drive-in movie boom peaked, and in the 1980s Goodridge sold the Milford Drive-In.

A master electrician, Goodridge continued working for OK Tool, then New England Steel, and “then opened an auto repair garage next to our house on Mason Road, his daughter said. He did that for several years before working for Wrenn Construction in Nashua. He also built several of the houses on Mason Road.”

The family moved to Florida in 1989, and Costley said her father never lost his love of the business.

“When the drive-in theater in Ocala, Fla., went up for sale a few years ago,” she said, “Dad actually seriously considered buying it and had a couple of meetings to discuss that. In the end, he decided against it because the screens and projection equipment were in such poor condition. He was older, and it was more than he wanted to take on.”

Bob and Fay Scharmett bought the Milford Drive-In Theater from Goodridge. Over the years the Scharmetts renovated the concession and restrooms, installed a new steel screen to replace the original wooden structure, built a new marquee and a new box office, and paved the entrance road,according to the theater’s web page. It was the first drive-in in New Hampshire to provide both AM and FM radio sound to its customers and became a twin drive-in in 1984 when the second screen was added. The theater recently replaced its film projection system with digital.

According to Wikipedia, by 2013 drive-ins comprised only 1.5 percent of movie screens in the United States, a decline attributed to the economics of real estate, the adoption of daylight saving time, and the advent of color TV and video rentals, as well as the outdoor theater’s vulnerability to the weather.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or kcleveland@
cabinet.com.