MS. REBECCA SHEIR
We turn now from the tranquility of the monastery to this place...
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
...you're hearing an increasingly rare sound right now, it's the whirring of a film at a drive-in theater. And the fight brewing at one particular drive-in in Baltimore County is the topic of our weekly transportation segment, "From A to B."
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Bengies is a third generation family business that draws patrons from near and far. But Bengies is in trouble, at least according to its owner. It's been fighting a four year battle with a nearby convenience store over lights that, Bengies claims, bleed onto the theater property, thereby distracting viewers. Martin Di Caro headed out to see how the next scene in this drama will unfold.
MR. MARTIN DI CARO
Inside the projection room, high above a rolling grass field of 250 parked cars, all facing a giant movie screen...
MR. MARTIN DI CARO
...D. Edward Vogel puts on a show.
MR. D. EDWARD VOGEL
Hey, I got to go quick.
Like a pinball, he bounces from one mighty projector to the other, empty reels under his arm, careening around his friend, Sam.
SAM is a Simplex Aromatic -- in fact, I don't think anybody has a SAM left.
SAM is a giant platter wound with an entire film, ready to be fed at 24 frames per second. Yes, SAMs are rare, so are people like D. Edward Vogel whose father designed and built his screen.
The monolith, a 52x120 foot monolith, that's the biggest screen left in the United States of America with a perfect picture and continuously operative.
Vogel tries to immerse moviegoers in nostalgia from the classic hits blaring from the speakers, to the aroma of tubs of buttery popcorn sold at his refreshment stand. In this atmosphere, it's easy for him to remember the first time his Dad let him into the projection room at nine-years-old. He still has a lot of kid left in him. But he says the past four years have taken the fun out of his life's work.
In 2008, I did not take a 16-acre of parcel of drive-in movie theater, designed and built by a famous architectural engineer, a perfect example of roadside America, I did not take that and park it next to a brightly lit farm store. That's not what happened here. And the fact that I was here first, apparently doesn't mean anything at all and that -- wrap your mind around that.
His tone might surprise you since he just won his lawsuit.
A jury awarded Vogel more than $800,000 so he can build an 800-foot long fence to block the light coming from the Royal Farms Gasoline and Convenience Store on the other side of four-lane Eastern Boulevard. But the jury did not award him damages. In fact, he has not lost business since Royal Farms opened in 2008.
The business numbers are not down. They are always up. Is the bottom line? No. You're looking at a 56-year-old physical plant. Look -- look what I haven't done in the last four years because I've been spending money on legal fees.
Vogel's attorney, Wray McCurdy, convinced a jury that Royal Farms lights are a nuisance to the operation of the theater. He had a lighting expert testify at trial.
MR. T. WRAY MCCURDY
Royal Farms signs were anywhere from 10 to 100 times brighter then the movie attempting to be projected onto the screen.
Just like in the movies, there's more than one side to every great drama. Royal Farms has already filed the motion to have the jury aware dismissed. And failing that, the company will appeal. John Kemp is Royal Farms' President.
MR. JOHN KEMP
Our concern here is that we at Royal Farms complied with the county regulations and we built the store with zero light migration and we have bent over backwards trying to basically rectify any issues that have come up.
His store has not been cited a single time by Baltimore County inspectors who were summoned to check out his lights dozens of times over the past four years. Kemp's attorney is Alan Abramowitz.
MR. ALAN ABRAMOWITZ
Our experts testified that not a single foot candle of light makes it across Eastern Avenue, let alone passed the businesses, passed the fence, passed the tree line.
D. Edward led me around his property as Madagascar 3 played on his big screen, showing me where the lights were most visible. Sure, I could see them across the street, but are they distracting? Some moviegoers say, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1
Anytime you've got a bright light, it distracts you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #1
It doesn't bother me, I'm here for the movies and that's what it's all about for me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #2
To be quite honest, it didn't -- I never even noticed it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE #3
There's actually a stop light over there that's more annoying than the Farm store.
John Kemp was truly stunned when he lost in court. But Vogel isn't celebrating. He's says he needs to build a second screen to stay profitable, but he won't do so until the lighting issue is resolved and the expected appeal is over.
What other answer is there? I mean, I don't know. I would spend my last dime trying, absolutely.
Meantime, Bengies projectors rattle away, the show goes on. I'm Martin Di Caro.
After the break, a new safety net for Washington area theater pros.
MS. LINDA LEVY GROSSMAN
It could be medical expenses, it could be the tree fell on my house. It could be, I'm flooded. It could be any unforeseen emergency situation.
That and more is just ahead on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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