Riverdale UT’s Motor-Vu won’t reopen

Motor-Vu Drive-In marquee, with the box office in the background
Detail of a screen capture from a KUTV news video

After some happy news of late, I’ve got some sad news to report. Riverdale UT’s Motor-Vu Drive-In had been a good example of the resurgence of ozoner interest, but it won’t reopen this year. That’s based on a report from KUTV, Salt Lake City’s News Leader, which said that the Motor-Vu had been rezoned for housing and sold to a developer.

The Motor-Vu started in 1947 with only one screen, and that’s what it had when Brent Coleman’s father had purchased the drive-in in 1979. He added two more screens in the 1980s, and the fourth arrived in 1996. In a 2016 newspaper article, Coleman mentioned that it stayed in the family during the following decades, then owned by him and two brothers. “I love movies, and I’ve never known anything else,” Brent said.

The KUTV article mentioned that it had reached out ” to the owners of Motor-Vu Drive-In but did not hear back.” It’s a darned shame when a perfectly good, well attended drive-in gets wiped out for a housing development. It’s all the more reason to appreciate the ones that are alive while we still have them.

Apr. 30: Motor Vu Drive-In Theatre, Riverdale UT

One of the Motor Vu screens

Photo by Shaun Fisher via Flickr

It’s Day 120 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey, the end of Month Four. My drive was a straight shot up the interstates, just about 40 minutes from the Redwood Drive-in Theatre in West Valley City to the Motor Vu Drive-In Theatre in Riverdale UT.

The Motor Vu opened in June 1947 as a single-screen drive-in. According to a fine article in the Ogden Standard-Examiner, it added two screens “in the 1980s” and a fourth in 1996. The Motor Vu switched to digital projection just before the 2016 season.

Former Motor Vu attendant Howard Coleman bought the place in 1979. Three sons own it now, and one of them, Brent Coleman, manages the drive-in. He said that the conversion to FM radio sound helped attendance. “Before — you see the speakers hanging off the poles? You’re dealing with wire that’d been in the ground for 60 years,” Coleman said. “If you ever got a short, it didn’t just take out the pole, it took out the whole row. On weekends, you could never be 100 percent capacity because the speakers couldn’t keep up with it.”

The concession stand here had all of the drive-in standards, with burgers, hot dogs, pizza, and nachos. Although it has four screens, only three of them were active this weekend. (They light up the fourth when the drive-in season heats up.) All three early shows were movies that I’ve seen, so I chose another viewing of The Boss Baby, the only option that I’d only seen once.

Miles Today / Total:  39 / 13160 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: The Boss Baby / 55

Nearby Restaurant: As much as I try to eat healthy, as much as I try to sample local cuisine, sometimes it’s just a Sunday afternoon when I want beer, wings, and lots of sports. (Or is it sports, wings, and lots of beer?) You probably know what the Buffalo Wild Wings is like; except for a few quirky older locations (which this isn’t), they all serve up a standard experience for the carnivore in us.

Where I Virtually Stayed: There aren’t any hotels in Riverdale, and there’s a large Air Force base between the drive-in and most of the options in Ogden. One of the closest options is the Hilton Garden Inn in Ogden, and it served up the standard HGI amenities. My room was clean and comfortable, and breakfast was free for me because I’m a Hilton Gold Card member.

Only in Riverdale: Next door in Ogden, a former A&W Burger fiberglass teenager statue has been given a painted beard and re-purposed as a chainsaw-wielding lumberjack. In his other hand, he holds a small log. Now he’s the front-door mascot of Wilson Lane Service, which sells and repairs outdoor equipment. (You can see photos of him here and here.)

Next stop: Idan-Ha Drive In Theatre, Soda Springs ID.

Apr. 29: Redwood Drive-in Theatre, West Valley City UT

It’s Day 119 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It only took about a half hour to drive back from the Motor Vu Drive In in Erda UT to the Redwood Drive-in Theatre in West Valley City, a suburb of Salt Lake City.

According to its web site, the Redwood opened in 1948 as a single-screen drive-in and “was an immediate success, drawing movie fans from all over the Salt Lake area.” (No wonder; the grand opening ad promised “Magic Moonglow Illumination.”) Later, the Redwood added screens here and there, totaling four by 1979 and eventually reaching six by 1990. Then it trimmed a couple over the years, dropping down to today’s four active screens. The satellite photos show all six screens still standing, so I’m not sure why the Redwood cut back.

According to a 1990 article in the Deseret News, the Redwood was being run by the DeAnza Land and Leisure Co. “The company formerly owned as many as four drive-ins throughout the valley. As they were forced to close those locations due to economic concerns, they recycled the equipment and expanded the Redwood location.” Maybe one of those transplanted screens is shown on the most famous drive-in photo ever? (See below.)

The good news was that I had a chance to see a movie at a drive-in for the first time in a little while. The bad news was that despite the Redwood’s four screens, there was only one early show that I hadn’t seen, and that was the latest Smurfs installment. Further, it was only about 50 degrees at movie time, so I was sure glad I brought a jacket.

Miles Today / Total:  28 / 13121 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Smurfs: The Lost Village / 54

Nearby Restaurant: It’s just a hole in the wall of a strip mall, but Thai This delivered some tasty Thai cuisine. I started with a spring roll with peanut sauce and finished with some Gai Yang marinated chicken. I had to pass a lot of chain restaurants to get here, but it was worth the drive.

Where I Virtually Stayed: One of the benefits of being close to a big city is finding funky new hotels such as the Home2 Suites by Hilton just four miles from the Redwood. The lobby fireplace felt especially nice on a cool Saturday night, and my room was clean, had a kitchenette, and its blinds were automatic. The morning breakfast was included too. This place was even nicer than some of the Hampton Inns I’ve visited.

Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments, drive-in theater, Utah, 1958.

photo by J.R. Eyerman — Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Only in West Valley City: West Valley City is just southwest of Salt Lake City, where the most famous drive-in photo was taken. In 1958, Charlton Heston parted the Red Sea while a full lot of cars watched in an iconic photo by J.R. Eyerman, published in Life magazine. As I figured out several years ago, that photo was sort of a fake – the Ten Commandments still was superimposed on Eyerman’s photo, which was of the Brigitte Bardot film And God Created Woman. But I never did figure out which now-closed drive-in hosted that photo.

Next stop: Motor Vu Drive-In Theatre, Riverdale UT.