Mitchell SD’s Starlite won’t reopen

Starlite Drive-In theater sign
Photo by Granola via Cinema Treasures.

Skipping over the many happy, mundane stories about drive-ins reopening for another season leaves me with the unhappy ones. This one from Mitchell’s Daily Republic, via Yahoo News, is quite sad. In 2020, the Starlite Drive-In Theatre there was a great example of a pandemic-based revival when owner Logan Luxury Theatres reopened it. Now the Starlite’s Facebook page tells the story, “It’s been a great run but all good things must come to an end.”

After a year of patronage that “came close to attendance levels in the 1970’s when drive-ins were at their peak,” business had faded for two years. That was the reason Logan gave for its decision not to reopen the Starlite this year. The post invited readers to visit “the Luxury 5 Cinemas downtown.” If I were cynical, I’d guess that once the indoor theaters were allowed to reopen, management saw the drive-in as unwanted competition.

The Starlite had closed in 2013, the year several drive-ins closed because of Hollywood’s change to digital projection. I’m glad that the folks in Mitchell were able to have an encore these past three years. Who knows, maybe enough of them will ask to bring the Starlite back to life one of these days.

The Most Popular* drive-in closes

from the Apache Drive-In Facebook page

Throughout the years, there have been well over a thousand posts here at (Please don’t make me count them.) During that time, one in particular stood out as the most visited, the *Most Popular post that’s ever appeared here. That post was about the Apache Drive-In in Tyler TX.

As you can tell by its sign, the Apache’s selling point wasn’t its snack bar, manicured grounds, or first-run films. It was known for showing “XXX Adult Videos” on the big screen for a small viewing field surrounded by trees.

On March 9, a post on the Apache’s Facebook page said, “Sad to announce the Apache Drive-In Theatre is permanently closed and the property has been sold.” Since that account had previously posted notes about holiday hours and pandemic-era closures, it looks legit, though I haven’t found any other sources to verify the news.

There’s still one adult-film drive-in left in Texas, the Fiesta Drive In Theatre in El Paso. But while the Fiesta always wears its, uh, heart on its sleeve, the Apache had seemed more furtive. The stories I read about the place always involved employees who didn’t want to talk about the owners, and the photos showed a screen with panels coming loose. It didn’t have much on an online presence. From afar, (I’ve never been to Tyler), the Apache sounded like a place where some folks quietly, maybe anonymously went to enjoy the show. Of course this lack of information about the drive-in led to unsatisfied curiosity. That’s the reason why thousands of internet users have clicked on the Apache post over the 9+ years it’s been available.

No matter what it showed, I find it a little sad to have to take another drive-in off the active list.

Ohio Sunset screen goes down

Ghoulish? Maybe. In an April full of stories about drive-ins reopening for another season, I’m relaying one about the final day of a retired screen.

The Sunset Drive-In in Ontario OH closed in 2015, and Joe Lykins bought the property in 2019. Lykins disassembles old barns and uses their vintage wood to build new structures, and he needed room to work. According to the Mansfield News Journal, Lykins recently needed to add a retaining pool to the property, and that meant the screen had to go. The newspaper captured a fine video of the screen-toppling last week.

In the accompanying news story, Lykins said the drive-in wasn’t economically viable. He tried to give away the screen, but had no takers. “People are going to hate me,” he said.

According to Cinema Treasures, the drive-in opened in 1947 as the Mansfield-Galion. It was renamed the Sunset before the 1953 season. It persisted as a family-owned business until the movie studios’ digital imperative required theaters to buy expensive new projectors or close. The Sunset chose to go dark when film ran out.

There are more details and photos about this somber story at the News Journal site. If you’d like to know more, go read it!