There’s no way that anyone could have predicted it more than a few months in advance, but when it comes to movies, this was the summer of the drive-in.
As naturally social-distanced pods, cars turned out to be the perfect way to watch films – albeit old classics – outside the house. Communities like Durango and Farmington that had drive-ins in the past found ways to improvise temporary new ones. But not terribly far away, drive-ins never really disappeared.
Perhaps the most versatile drive-in is located in Monte Vista. Mostly because it’s also a motel.
The Star Drive-In opened in 1955, with spaces for 300 cars pointed at a single screen. This wasn’t terribly notable in and of itself as that was the heyday of drive-in theaters. But in 1964, owner George Kelloff came up with a way to transform the summertime attraction into a larger business opportunity — by building a semi-circular hotel with picture windows behind the parking spots.
The Movie Manor motel has since expanded, but in its original 14 rooms, you can see the original screen from the bed. From the others, a bit of maneuvering or repositioning of chairs is required. And in response to the initial success of the inn/cinema combos, the Kelloffs built a second movie screen that can also be seen from the rooms. Every room has a built-in mono speaker that replicates the audio portion of the drive-in experience, but the audio tracks can also be found on the radios in the rooms.
The fact that there are two screens means that during the season from mid-May through September, there are usually two movies running — new ones even, when Hollywood is churning them out. During our stay, they had “Inception” (2010) and “Unhinged” (2020). They play on both screens at the same time, not back-to-back like a double feature.
In addition to the usual number, the rooms also bear the name of a famous actor. This doesn’t mean they’re themed, mind you. When we stayed there, we got room 108 ... the Al Pacino room. And yet inside we found neither guns nor a mountain of cocaine — just a Gideons bible, coffee, and the usual motel room stuff. That’s probably for the best. Instead, there were two identical paintings (you know, the kind you’d find at a mall kiosk about 15 years ago) with a bunch of early- to mid-20th century film stars hanging out on a patio.
Entertainingly, a number of the celebrity names on the rooms and in the cement outside the lobby, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre-style, are misspelled. We like to think that “Arnold Schwartzennager” is the star of “The Terminater.”
What’s nifty about watching a first-run from a motel room is that you can do whatever you want with complete privacy. Having an alcoholic drink that would get you in trouble if you were in a car, doing yoga, typing your own screenplay loudly on an old-fashioned typewriter ... you can do pretty much anything while maintaining a full view of the screen. (We’re assuming nobody is going to come and stare into your window — if that’s happening, you’ve got bigger problems.) And if you want the usual popcorn and refreshments, you can walk out to the drive-in’s snack bar and back to your room.
The Star Drive-In is now a Best Western, which makes it pretty easy to reserve a room, and the rates are typical for the area. Finding out what movies are showing is a pain on Best Western’s website for the motel, however they are listed on the website for the Star Drive-In.