Restoration Underway at Colorado Drive-In

Frontier drive-in marquee

The sign as it looked in 1998. Photo by Neon Michael from the Carload Flickr pool

Thanks to a tip from the proprietor of Roadside Architecture, I found out today that an iconic Colorado drive-in marquee is being restored. The Center (CO) Post Dispatch reported that the sign for the old Frontier west of town will be the most visible part of a larger project that also includes maintaining the existing projector booth and screen.

Mark Falcone, whose company has worked on some high-profile redevelopment projects in Denver, told an Upper Rio Grande Economic Development meeting that he planned to build a common space including “an RV park with 10-12 hook-ups, four cabins, 30-40 yurts with shared bathrooms and tent camping sites.” The concession stand would be restored to a 1950s look, and native materials would be used for some of the other buildings.

The Post Dispatch article mentioned preserving the screen and improving these other areas, and it talked about resident artists, workshops and cooking events. But it never actually mentioned, you know, drive-in movies. So I can’t tell yet whether that’s going to be part of the package.

According to the 1955-56 Theatre Catalog, the Frontier is at least that old, run by Herbert Gumper back then. It first showed up in the International Motion Picture Almanac in its 1956 edition. Gumper also owned the Round-Up Drive-In about 40 miles south in La Jara. In 1963, he advertised his La Jara theaters for sale, and in July 1964, he passed away and was buried in La Jara.

By the 1978 IMPA, the Center drive-in was listed as the “New Frontier”, run by Edwin Bohn. (Though I’m skeptical about “New”. It doesn’t look like the marquee ever added that word, and Bohn’s obituary called it just the Frontier. But I digress.) The drive-in fell off the list between the 1984 and 1986 editions, so that’s probably about when VCRs spread to the Upper Rio Grande Valley and knocked off the Frontier.

On Memorial Day weekend 1998, I drove through central and western Colorado on a drive-in photography trip, and I was surprised to see this old sign still standing along US 285, squeezed into the corner space left by one of the valley’s crop circles. I was just as surprised to learn that it looked about the same a decade later – a testament to the preservative power of high altitude and low humidity. As the years went by, I sometimes daydreamed that when I made my fortune, I’d set aside enough to restore the Frontier (or some other worthy resuscitation candidate) for the benefit of locals and tourists alike. I enjoyed reading today that someone else had the same idea.