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.

Apr. 26: Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive In, Minturn CO.

It’s Day 116 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It took a little almost three hours to drive down from Fort Collins through the Denver area, across the continental divide in the Eisenhower Tunnel, then on to the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive In in Minturn CO.

Minturn, in the Vail Valley, is a pretty small town, but its Little Beach Park got lit up last summer for the latest outpost of the Austin TX-area Blue Starlite franchise. A long, belated article in The Denver Post described owner Josh Frank’s search for a place in Colorado to show movies and Minturn’s economic development director’s response. “This really fits Minturn’s brand,” said Michelle Metteer, “I mean, our mission statement includes the words ‘funky’ and ‘eclectic’ and we want to stay that way. This just worked perfectly.”

They call this the highest drive-in in America, but as I noted a few days ago, the Comanche in Buena Vista is surprisingly about 100 feet higher. Still, both of these places are elevated enough to remind flatland visitors to drink plenty of water to help fight altitude sickness.

The Colorado Blue Starlite is scheduled to open for its 2017 season on June 22. It should be a lot of fun then, but not now, in April.

Miles Today / Total:  165 / 12672 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 53

Nearby Restaurant: The Sticky Fingers Cafe and Bakery is a lovely little place for breakfast and lunch. I think they named the place after folks who eat the cinnamon hot bun without utensils.

Where I Virtually Stayed: It’s sort of an apartment hotel, but the Hotel Minturn fits the bill of being convenient and nice enough to visit. There’s a kitchenette and coffee in every room, and if you didn’t bring any food to cook, it’s not that hard to find breakfast nearby.

Only in Minturn: About halfway between Minturn and Leadville are the ruins of Camp Hale, the training facility for the 10th Mountain Division in World War II. The camp, which housed 15,000 soldiers at its peak, included mess halls, infirmaries, a ski shop, administrative offices, a movie theater, and stables for livestock. From 1959 to 1965, Tibetan guerrillas were secretly trained at Camp Hale by the CIA. In 1965, Camp Hale was dismantled and the land was deeded to the U.S. Forest Service. Since 1974, the area has become a youth development training center.

Next stop: Echo Drive-In, Roosevelt UT.

Apr. 25: Holiday Twin Drive In Theatre, Fort Collins CO

It’s Day 115 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It took a little over an hour to drive from Commerce City CO to the Holiday Twin Drive In Theatre in Fort Collins.

Cinema Treasures says that the Holiday Twin started life in 1968 as the single-screen Starlight, then added a second screen in 1976.

According to a wonderful, long article in the Fort Collins Coloradoan, current owner Wes Webb acquired the drive-in in 1979 by trading his light plane for it. By 1997, he and his wife Stephanie owned six drive-ins, five in Utah and the Holiday Twin. Stephanie said he bought them as investments, “big pieces of ground that make money,” but promised his wife that he would hold on to one of them, which turned out to be the Holiday Twin.

In my previous visits, I’ve been impressed by what a class act the Holiday Twin is. Decent facilities, a good concession stand, and a well-maintained lot. I heard they added a mini-golf course last year, but I haven’t had time to check it out.

The drive-in is still over a week away from its opening date of May 5 this year, so I was left without a movie to watch.

Miles Today / Total:  64 / 12507 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 53

Nearby Restaurant: It’s part of a chain, but my favorite place to eat in Fort Collins is the HuHot Mongolian Grill downtown. That location is part of an old hotel, and the brick walls and high ceilings (and a bar area) give it a different atmosphere than the antiseptic new HuHots that keep getting built. Pile as much meat and veggies in a bowl, add whatever sauces look good, then watch their chefs cook it into a yummy treat.

Where I Virtually Stayed: There are plenty of places to stay in Fort Collins, but none of them are especially close to the Holiday Twin. The closest is the Hilton Fort Collins, where I took advantage of my Hilton gold level to get some extra pampering. If you can make it to the executive lounge, it’s definitely worth it.

Only in Fort Collins: According to Roadside America, a 12-foot tall Campbell’s Soup can with Andy Warhol’s signature sits in front of old Fort Collins High School. Tomato, of course.

Next stop: Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive In, Minturn CO.