Traverse City Record-Eagle

Region

March 23, 2012

Cherry Bowl to open despite injury

HONOR — The Cherry Bowl Drive-In Theatre will open this year, but it likely will be without Harry Clark's familiar voice announcing birthdays and first-time patrons over the car-window and post speakers.

Clark, who with his family owns the landmark drive-in on U.S. 31 outside Honor in Benzie County, is recovering from serious injuries he received March 10 in a winter storm-related accident.

The drive-in was expected to open April 27 for its 59th season. But that probably will be delayed, perhaps until summer, said Andrew Clark, who has helped operate the drive-in with his parents since they bought the Cherry Bowl in 1997.

"I'm going to be going over there in the next few weeks and doing some work and getting speakers hung," he said. "At least I'm going to get things ready. As far as we're concerned, we're going to go on with the drive-in."

Andrew Clark, 35, of Frankfort, said he was helping clear storm damage on his parents' Benzonia property when a tree they were cutting fell and struck his father's head. Andrew Clark used the family's tractor to carry his father through deep snow to the end of the driveway, where North Flight EMS waited.

Harry Clark was airlifted to Munson Medical Center, where he remains in serious condition.

"He said he couldn't feel anything," said Andrew Miller, owner of A. Papano's Pizza in Beulah and a reserve deputy with the Benzie County Sheriff's Office. "That's where the rumor started that he might be paralyzed. It's coming into more fact now that he probably is paralyzed."

The Clarks are the second owners of the Cherry Bowl since it opened in 1953. Harry Clark, 63, and his wife, Laura, took on the theater — a favorite destination for area vacationers and locals alike — after dropping out of the Detroit corporate world and moving north to raise their family. Their daughter, Arika Clark, 30, also will help run the theater business this season, Andrew Clark said.

The iconic drive-in is a familiar sight to motorists who travel the highway between Beulah and Honor.

Signs hanging along a fence proclaim "See you in the spring," and classic cars and funky sculptures decorate the venue. The screen's blue backside features a cluster of cherries.

The Cherry Bowl is known for a family-friendly 1950s atmosphere that includes a mini-golf course, a playground, a beach volleyball court, hula hoop contests and lucky numbers drawings. Patrons are encouraged to honk their car horns for birthdays and first-timers.

Double feature films traditionally begin at dusk daily between Memorial and Labor Days and on weekends about a month before and after. None are rated higher than PG-13.

"If he has a real good movie, the cars will be backed way up to Platte Road," said Sue Sheffield, who sees lots of visitors at her nearby Lone Pine Party Store.

The theater is a hometown treasure and community tradition for many in Benzie County and beyond.

"For those visitors who come every year, the Cherry Bowl is one of those things they want to do," said Chris Theobald, who owns the Honor Motel and knows Clark. "People come from all over the state to visit this drive-in theater. And it's very original as you know, and he prides himself on that."

Movie-goers sometimes spend the night at the pale yellow, roadside hotel after catching a late-night double feature. Theobald also attends when possible, in what has become a summer rite for some families.

Clark and his family have been in the thoughts of many in the small town.

"He's (a) wonderful, super nice fellow," Theobald said.

Elaine Newbold, of Frankfort, takes her family to the Cherry Bowl in the summers. She appreciates the "family-orientated" venue and how Clark always thanks and honors service members before movies start.

"He's super patriotic," she said.

Her children would have been "devastated" if the drive-in had closed, and others in town also are grateful to know movies will screen under the stars once again.

"I'm thrilled to hear that they are going to be reopening. I was concerned about that," Theobald said. "It's good news for our entire area. We pride ourselves on the Cherry Bowl, and it just would have been a tremendous loss if it had not reopened because of that."

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