Video: Starlite 14 May Close Permanently

WMTV, Madison WI’s News Leader, reported some sad news last night. The Starlite 14 Drive In in Richland Center may showing movies for just a couple more weeks, according to an announcement by its owners, Lisa and Bill Muth.

In a post on the drive-in’s Facebook page, Bill Muth wrote, “We have decided to retire from the theater business. … The Starlite 14 Drive-In will close permanently after the completion of the 2019 season on September 1, 2019.” He added that he would soon attempt to sell the Starlite and his indoor Center Cinema.

Muth’s description of the situation in the WMTV video sounded just a bit more positive. “If nobody buys the theater, and they don’t buy it and reopen it next year, it will be permanently closed, and it will be gone.”

Personally, I see a lot of room for optimism. The Starlite 14 has digital projection (already paid off, Muth wrote), and it’s still mostly surrounded by farm land. While it’s true that it won’t reopen if no one ever buys it, the site doesn’t look attractive for warehouses or apartments, so I’d say its best use is still as a drive-in theater. Here’s hoping some buyer agrees with me some time this off-season.

June 21: Sky-Vu Drive-In, Monroe WI

It’s Day 172 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It took me less than an hour and a half to drive an assortment of two-lane highways from Jefferson WI to the Sky-Vu Drive-In just south of Monroe WI.

According to Isthmus.com, the Sky-Vu opened in 1954 and has been operating ever since. It boasts “The Largest High Reflective screen” in the Midwest since it was replaced in 1976. The Sky-Vu installed FM stereo sound in 1986, although the folks at Cinema Treasures say that any claims that it was the first drive-in to switch to FM are exaggerated. The Sky-Vu installed digital projectors in time to start the 2012 season.

Isthmus wrote that the Sky-Vu brings in a lot of drive-in faithful from neighboring Iowa and Illinois. “We’ve had people come in motorcycles,” sais owner Duke Goetz. “I’ve had the highest-quality Mercedes-Benz and Lexus roll in there. I’ve had other cars that should have been part of the cash-for-clunkers program. I’ve had the semi tractor-trailer guys come in. It’s everybody.”

I was sure to save room for the famous Sky-Vu pizza, and if I brought in any cold water in my car, I was discreet about drinking it. This night, I had my fourth viewing of Cars 3, including my third night in a row. The more I watch, the more I wonder why there would be a school bus in the Cars universe.

Miles Today / Total:  70 / 22163 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Cars 3 / 88

Nearby Restaurant: For a great little restaurant facing the courthouse, Pancho & Lefty’s Outlaw Grill is a great choice. Since I ate healthy the day before, I had the Pig on Pig sandwich with pulled port and two thick slices of bacon. A seriously large margarita might not have been necessary to accompany the meal, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Where I Virtually Stayed: All right! After a few nights of hobnobbing with more upscale lodging, I returned to another familar face, the Super 8. I was fortunate that this is another of those really good “Pride of Super 8” locations with a fridge and good wifi in the room and the standard “Superstart” continental breakfast with hot entrees if you count the waffle iron and the toaster. It was all I needed at a great price.

Only in Monroe: According to the Insiders’ Guide to Madison WI, Monroe has hosted Green County Cheese Days every September of even-numbered years since 1914. The festival can draw over 100,000 visitors and includes “a parade, tractor pull, arts and crafts fair, polka music, yodeling, and absurd amounts of cheese and beer.”

Next stop: 61 Drive In Theatre, Delmar IA.

June 20: Highway 18 Outdoor Theatre, Jefferson WI

It’s Day 171 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Thanks to well-placed interstates, it took me less than an hour and a half to drive from Wisconsin Dells to the Highway 18 Outdoor Theatre in Jefferson WI.

The Highway 18 opened in 1953 and operated until 1994. Lee Burgess bought it, refurbished it, and reopened in 2000. “It was pretty much on a whim that I bought it,” he told Isthmus.com in 2012. “Then I spent about a year restoring it. Everything’s pretty much the same as it was when it was built.” Except for that gorgeous little neon sign; he added that in 2005.

There are seesaws and jungle gyms for the kids in front of the screen, and in back of the screen there’s a bar for the grown-ups. But you can’t take the alcohol back to the viewing area (except, existentially, in your bloodstream) and you can’t watch the movie from the bar. Oh well!

I was happy to see some in-car speakers still on their poles. I understand that maintaining them can be a pain, but they’re a great selling point for nostalgia.

The Highway 18 has its own YouTube channel, but I thought the best video for showing off what the place looks like these days was Urbex’s crawl around the grounds posted just a couple of weeks ago, so that’s what I embedded above.

This night, I had my third viewing of Cars 3, a movie that makes me feel old. Then again, driving over 20,000 miles in six months would also make me feel old.

Miles Today / Total:  74 / 22093 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Cars 3 / 87

Nearby Restaurant: I was happy to get to Jefferson in time for an early lunch at the Brickhaus Cafe. First of all, there’s coffee, and that’s very important. I also enjoyed a hummus plate before getting full on an apple walnut salad. For all my talk about eating healthy, every now and then I actually do it.

Where I Virtually Stayed: The review of the few hotels in Jefferson were a little scary, so I drove just a little farther to the Holiday Inn Express in Fort Atkinson. The room had all the standard niceties, but it’s the HIE breakfast that really stands out to me. I love the pancake machines that HIEs have. The cinnamon rolls are great, but I remember when they were absolutely irresistible. Have they changed, or have I?

Only in Jefferson: Actually down in nearby Fort Atkinson, you’ll find the National Dairy Shrine Museum, part of the Hoard Historical Museum. It’s a great place to discover and honor “the rich heritage of the dairy industry.” For a feel for what it’s like, you should check out the Roadside America report, especially what was in the displayed parachute package.

Next stop: Sky-Vu Drive-In, Monroe WI.