History Here and Now Column May 22, 2009

Special to the Sentinel/Loyd Files Research Library Museum of Western Colorado
Chief Drive-In Theatre sign at 2868 North Ave. before it was removed. The Chief was the last of Grand Junction’s drive-ins, closing in 1992.

An e-mail that a friend forwarded to me about the Starlite Drive-In Theatre gave me the idea for this column.

A gentleman in Canada was restoring a Hudson car, and when he removed the seats he found ticket stubs for the Starlite here in Grand Junction and wanted information about the theater.

The Starlite Drive-In was at 2403 North Ave., where Teller Arms Shopping Center is now. It was the first drive-in in Grand Junction, the second in Colorado. The theater was in business by 1951 and owned by Loyd Files and his brother. In the early 1960s — I couldn’t find the exact date — the drive-in was moved to 23 Road, just north of U.S. Highway 6&50, to make way for Teller Arms.

The second drive-in theater to open in Grand Junction was the Chief. According to the Polk City Directory, the theater was showing movies in 1953. The Chief was at 2868 North Ave. The entrance was what is now a vacant strip of land between the Garden Center building and Texas Road House.

The movie screen stood about where the Colorado West Mental Health Center is now.

The third drive-in to open was the Rocket in 1956. It was at 2891 North Ave. and closed around 1988.

Of the three theaters, the Chief was the last to close, in 1992.

For years, the Chief sign was a landmark on North Avenue and now has a home at the Museum of the West.

Before World War II, there were only about 100 major drive-ins nationwide, but after the war, drive-in theaters began popping up all across America.

Drive-ins were ideal for the young family. Moms and dads could take the kids with them to the show and not worry about a baby-sitter or that one of the kids would be a distraction for other moviegoers. There was a playground at the foot of the movie screen where kids could play until the movies started.

Drive-ins were also a popular date for teens, who delighted in seeing how many kids could be stuffed into the trunk of a car to sneak into the movies. As one person told me, he never knew what show he was going to see until someone opened the trunk.

Moviegoers could always go to the concession stand for such standard items as popcorn, hotdogs, hamburgers, candy or sodas, but not all moviegoers wanted to do that.

A friend, Linda McLean, recalled that her family would always make enough popcorn to fill a big grocery bag, then stop at the A&W Drive-in for a gallon of root beer and they were set.

The e-mail from the man in Canada brought back fond memories of going to a drive-in with family and friends to watch a movie on the gigantic screen. You couldn’t beat it on a summer night.

With your family and friends, you can still enjoy a drive-in movie. There are two drive-ins remaining on the Western Slope: the Tru Vu Drive-In Theatre in Delta at 1001 Colorado Highway 92; and the Star Drive-In Theatre in Montrose at 1600 E. Miami.

And please, don’t forget to take the speaker out of your window and put it back on the post before you drive off.

Kathy Jordan is retired from The Daily Sentinel and involved in many preservation efforts, including the Avalon Theatre, the railroad depot and the North Seventh Street Historic Residential District.

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