Nov. 25: Monetta Drive In Theatre, Monetta SC

It’s Day 329 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. In the middle day of my three-day trip through the drive-ins of South Carolina, I drove 2½ hours from the Highway 21 Drive In in Beaufort to the Monetta Drive In Theatre in Monetta of course.

The Monetta, now often called the Big Mo, was opened in 1951 by Sam Bogo. Another source said that it was owned by Twin City Amusement Co. into the 1960s. That could have been Bogo’s company for all I know.

By 1978, the Monetta was owned by J. Warren, probably the same J. Warren who owned the Highway 21 in Beaufort SC. By all accounts, the drive-in closed in 1986 and sat idle for 12 years.

Then Richard and Lisa Boaz entered the picture. They bought the Monetta, sort of renamed it the Big Mo, and generally did a lot of clean-up before they could open in 1999.  The marquee’s letters had blown away, and sunlight had burned “Closed For
Vacation” into the concrete. “There were weeds all over the marquee,” Richard told the Wall Street Journal (subscription) in 2000. “The roof had fallen in on the ticket booth. The screen was half blown out. It was a disaster. But I had one of those Kevin Costner revelations: ‘Build it and they will come.'”

Problems didn’t stop there. When the Boazes went to the banks, loan officers all but laughed when they heard what their small business loan would be for. They also had to overcome the stigma of the last decade or two of the Monetta’s previous life when X-rated films outnumbered general releases. They persevered, and the Big Mo was (slightly) profitable in its first year.

Once all that work was done, the pair added other projects. They added a second screen in 2005 and a third in 2011. The Big Mo caught a break in 2013 when Project Honda expanded its winners list from five to nine drive-ins and gave the Boazes a free digital projector in that extra set.

The Big Mo was struck by lightning during the shows of Sunday, June 18 this year. “All of a sudden, a little after 10, I hear ‘crack!’,” Richard told WITX, Columbia’s News Leader. It knocked out all three screens, but the drive-in was up and running by that Thursday.

The embedded YouTube video of the day is a slice of life from 2013 at the Big Mo. It was shot by South Carolina Educational Television.

Miles Today / Total: 124 / 37904 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Coco / 198

Nearby Restaurant: I visited Peaches n’ Such in town for its dessert, but the rest of lunch was pretty good too. The pulled pork sandwich with fresh fruit was enough to keep me going until dinner, and the wonderful peach ice cream left me wondering when I’d be hungry again.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Apparently there aren’t any hotels in Monetta, so I travelled east to the outskirts of Columbia, where I found a nearby Hampton Inn. Of course you never have to twist my arm to stay at a Hampton. There were cookies, flavored water, and coffee to greet me at check-in. My room had all the modern amenities. Breakfast was the very nice Hampton standard. If only it had been a little closer to the Big Mo, it would be perfect.

Only in Monetta: Roadside America calls out the Big Mo because its projection booth is shaped and colored like a giant peach. “The peach is a symbol of South Carolina pride over upstart neighbor Georgia,” it wrote. That’s also where the lightning hit in June; maybe they need to rethink that shape?

Next stop: Auto 25 Drive In, Greenwood SC.