Drive-ins used to be big in Durango

Rocket Drive-In marquee

The Rocket as it appeared in May 1998.
Photo by Michael Kilgore from the Carload Flickr Pool

The Durango Herald ran a great story yesterday that outlined a thorough history of drive-in theaters in Durango CO. It starts with the Basin Drive-in on Main Avenue in 1950, which was apparently its first year. “If the drive-in was open before that, which appears unlikely, it wasn’t advertised in the Herald,” wrote columnist John Peel.

In 1956, the Basin was renamed the Knox. That’s the way it’s listed in my 1955-56 Theatre Catalog’s drive-in list, and that it was run by (and probably owned by) one T.R. Knox.

The Rocket opened in 1957 in the southeast part of town. A year later, the Knox became the Bell Drive-in; I wonder if some guy named Bell bought it. In 1963, ads for the Bell disappeared from the Herald, so I’m guessing it died after the 1962 season. Also in 1963, the Buckskin Drive-In opened near Ignacio, a few miles south of Durango by the Southern Ute Reservation. The article didn’t mention when the Buckskin closed, but there’s little sign of it now.

Inside Durango proper, the Rocket was the only drive-in in town from 1963 until it closed in 2004. It had a great location between US Highway 160 to its north and a scenic bluff at its south. I’m glad to have experienced it before it left us.

There are a lot more memories and a couple of nice photos in the Herald article, so you really should go read it!

Need a good site for a new drive-in?

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Every once in a while, someone asks me where they could build a new drive-in. In the olden days, the answer was pretty simple: On the highway out of town, just past the city limits. Now it’s more complicated. Here is my list of the factors when evaluating a new drive-in site:

  • Are there people around? Farmland in the middle of nowhere is cheap, but there probably aren’t enough customers willing to drive far enough to watch a movie, then drive all the way home.
  • Is civilization expanding in the site’s direction? If rings of suburbs are spreading thataway, then it might not be many years before the taxable land value will skyrocket, leaving the choice of extra overhead or selling out.
  • Are utilities available? The site needs to be close enough to water and electricity to hook up without too much extra expense.

Add these up, and you’ll see that the ideal site is close to a decent population center, but on a parcel that would be difficult to develop into anything else. I happen to have a pretty good example, 2175 River Road, Grand Junction CO. Take a look. It’s right next to major highways. It’s within the city limits. It’s bounded by the interstate highway and a wastewater treatment plant. (Hope the evening breezes are okay.) Grand Junction is large enough to support a minor-league baseball team, but its closest drive-in is 46 miles away in Delta.

Apparently, this plot is currently being used as storage by a company that sells trailers, mainly horse trailers. I have no idea who owns it, whether they’d be willing to sell or lease it, and even whether there are any utilities already serving that drive-in-shaped piece of land. But you’ve got to admit, it’s a fine example.

Now it’s your turn. You know your region better than I do. Look over a map and find something similar – a piece of land big enough for a drive-in, close enough for patrons and utilities, but homely enough for other builders to leave it alone. When you spot a good one, either start building or leave a comment here so we can all look it over. Maybe one of us can plant the seed that will sprout into a new drive-in theater.

Drive-in author tells USA Today his top ten

Mesa Drive-In marquee with photo creditAt one level, I look at USA Today’s story, posted late last night, as pure link bait. Any top ten list is designed to pull in visitors from all over just because its title is intriguing and its slide show is eye candy. On the other hand, they used my photo! So now I can change that line on my resume to “Award-winning photographer featured in USA Today.”

Where was I? Oh yes, the article. Well-known drive-in historian Don Sanders gave USA Today’s Larry Bleiberg his top ten favorite drive-in theaters. I don’t know if they were the top ten active drive-ins, or whether it just happens that Sanders’ favorites all happen to still be alive. There are notes and photos for each, so you really should go read it! But here is a quick summary: