Pueblo’s Mesa sold, will reopen

The Mesa as it looked in 2005.

We can always use a bit of good news, as was published in this morning’s Pueblo Chieftain. Marcella Snyder and her husband Jon Parkin, already the owners of the Tibbs Drive-In in Indianapolis, have purchased the Mesa Drive-In in Pueblo CO. They’re working on upgrades to the plumbing and a few other items, and are looking to reopen around Memorial Day weekend.

The slightly sad part of the story is a farewell to Chuck and Marianne James, longtime supporters of this blog, who are retiring. They had owned the Mesa since they saved it from the bulldozers in 1994. In 2000, they added two screens to their drive-in from others in Colorado that had closed. After those decades of stewardship, it’s so nice that they found another drive-in enthusiast to take over.

In honor of the transition, the Chieftain produced a nice little slideshow video documenting some of the Mesa’s history. I would note that there are significantly more than 200 active drive-ins in the US, but that’s a minor quibble. Let’s all be happy that this Colorado landmark shows every sign of staying active for decades to come.

Flea Market Company Buys The Rubidoux

United Flea Markets, whose flagship location is a literal stone’s throw from the 88 Drive-In Theater in Commerce City CO, bought its first drive-in theater this week. According to a story in FleaMarketZone, the new acquisition is the Rubidoux Drive-In Theatre of Riverside CA.

According to that story, which reads a lot like a press release, “With its original 1948 screen tower still standing tall, The Rubidoux is the last of the classic drive-in theaters remaining in Southern California.” That might be a surprise to the Van Buren Drive-In Theatre, also in Riverside, which might think that opening in 1964 makes it old enough to be classic. Not to mention the Mission Tiki (1956) or the Vineland (1955), also in the Los Angeles area, or the Santee (1956) or the South Bay (1958) further south. But I digress.

The fun part about this story is the element of man bites dog. Historically, drive-ins added flea markets to add daytime revenue. Although there’s at least one former drive-in site that’s now only a flea market, this is the first I’ve heard of a flea market company diversifying into drive-in movies.

“Flea markets and swap meets serve as community gathering spaces where people come together and have a good time,” said Rob Sieban, head of United Flea Markets. “What better way to encapsulate that vision than through movie night?” Sounds like fun to me.

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.