Nov. 13: Starlite Drive-In, Christiansburg VA

It’s Day 317 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Time to get back to some of the drive-ins that are closed for the season. Starting from Henderson NC, it took me 3½ hours to drive to the Starlite Drive-In in Christiansburg VA.

There are drive-ins with vague pasts, multiple ownership transactions and name changes. This is none of these. As Collegiate Times wrote in 2012, the “Starlite was opened in 1953 by Richard and Dorothy Beasley. The two ‘built, owned, and operated the Starlite Theater together for all those years’ before Richard passed away in July of 2009.” A few Starlite signs now say “since 1952,” so maybe that opener is just a little vague.

A July 2011 story in The Washington Post included a look in at the Starlite. “The Starlite’s parking area slopes steeply downhill toward the screen, which makes it easier to see over the vehicles in front of you. There’s no playground here, but there is plenty of open space where the kids enjoy burning off energy before the movie.” It was being run by Dorothy Beasley then and still offered “tinny” in-car speakers as well as radio sound.

The next year, for that Collegiate Times article, the owner was Peggy Beasley, and she’s still the owner in 2017. Over the past couple of years, she’s been in the news probably more than she’d prefer.

Her nicest coverage came from Virginia Living in 2013. “Known for its colorful star-dotted signpost and the Beasley family’s famous chili, the Starlite is now owned by daughter Peggy,” it wrote, noting that Richard Beasley built the screen frame in 1953, and it survives to this day.

The problem started in 2016 when Peggy Beasley gave up on replacing lost or stolen in-car speakers and switched to large outdoor speakers. As I wrote at the time, that’s the way the original drive-ins handled sound, and there’s a reason they don’t do it any more – neighbors. The Starlite is surrounded by housing, and some of the neighbors complained to the town, as reported in The Roanoke Times.

The situation continued to June 2017, when Peggy Beasley was summoned to Montgomery County General District Court on July 11 to face a misdemeanor noise disturbance charge, as documented in another story in The Roanoke Times. Her lawyer countered by filing an injunction claiming that her rights of due process have been violated, and that the Starlite is exempt from the town’s noise ordinance.

“I just look forward to it being over with,” Peggy said. “Daddy told me to keep it running when he passed away, because there would be a lot of disappointed people.”

The Radford News Journal wrote that she is considering renting radios, which I mentioned last year and of which I’ve seen dozens of examples in my virtual travels this year. Let’s hope that solves the problem.

The embedded video of the day is from WDBJ, Roanoke’s News Leader, and it includes plenty of nice shots of the Starlite as it discusses the sound / noise controversy. And the drive-in has been closed for the season for weeks, so on this night it was quiet as well as dark.

Miles Today / Total: 177 / 35835 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 190

Nearby Restaurant: When a restaurant promises all you can eat, I pay attention. That was the Monday special at Fatback Soul Shack – all the popcorn shrimp I wanted, plus corn on the cob, hush puppies, baked barbecue beans and so much more. Add a nice selection of beers, and I had all I needed for the night.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Not only is there a Hampton Inn in Christiansburg, but its rates for November suggest that this is the bargain time of year. It was so wonderfully predictable – coffee and cookies waiting for me at check-in, a comfortable room with all the modern amenities, and the solid Hampton-level free breakfast in the morning. But I’ve been to so many I’m starting to see that wide Hampton hexagon in my sleep.

Only in Christiansburg: This town has been around since the 18th century when it was “a concentration of taverns and rest stops along the Great Wilderness Road,” according to Wikipedia. Notable early residents included Daniel Boone, who once had an arrest warrant in Christiansburg for a debt, later repaid; Davy Crockett, who served as an apprentice to a local newspaper printer; and William Clark, of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition, who lived downtown.

Next stop: Warner’s Drive-In, Franklin WV.