June 4: TK-Starlite Drive-In, Neligh NE

TK Starlite Drive-In marquee lit with cloudy background

photo from the TK-Starlite Facebook page

It’s Day 155 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It took about three and a half hours to drive from the Midway Drive-in Theatre north of Miller SD down south across the border to the TK-Starlite Drive-In in Neligh NE.

The Starlite Drive-In opened in 1952 with a single screen and room for about 300 cars. It’s been operating ever since. Current owner Stacy Klabenes purchased it from Jack March and added the TK initials “using the letters from his children’s names,” according to a 2011 article in the Norfolk (NE) Daily News.

“I want to pull more people in,” Klabenes said then. “Basically, we want to put Neligh back on the map.”

Jennifer Blackburn-Nielsen, a spokesperson for local business group Grow Neligh, told the Daily News, “The drive-in theater is also a very important aspect as far as tourism in Neligh and helps attract people from all over the state who come to enjoy the nostalgia of a drive-in theater.”

It was great to find an open drive-in on a Sunday night. I saw the latest Pirates of the Caribbean installment again, keeping my eyes busy again while I munched on popcorn and a pizza burger.

Miles Today / Total:  211 / 19976 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales / 71

Nearby Restaurant: When I read “Imperial” on the sign, I think Chinese restaurant. When I see Imperial Steakhouse, I think, y’know, steak. But it turns out that this place serves a little bit of everything, especially Mexican food. I enjoyed the “enchiladas imperial” with rice and beans and a beer margarita. Yum!

Where I Virtually Stayed: The TK-Starlite is unusual in that it actually suggests nearby lodging. At the top of its list is the Deluxe Motel. The Deluxe is nothing too fancy, but it had a fridge in the room and coffee available, two of the things I hope to find wherever I spend the night.

Only in Neligh: Roadside America also has an entry for the Deluxe Motel. According to their story, Michael Landon, then starring in the TV staple Bonanza, was the headliner at the local county fair in 1962 and spent the night at the Deluxe Motel. Now there’s a large hole in the side of the wall in Room 10 with a plaque that says after he checked out, they noticed the damaged wall. “What may have started out as a slam on a fancy-pants Hollywood star has obviously morphed into civic pride for the late great star.”

Next stop: Verne Drive In Theatre, Luverne MN.