Wesley Webb is a keeper of nostalgia.
As the owner of one of less than 400 drive-in movie theaters left in the nation, he is a representative of a waning industry that he says is losing to big movie franchises and, more prominently, a changing culture in the film business.
As Webb, who owns the Holiday Twin drive-in theater in Fort Collins, sits on a tattered couch that looks like it came from the ’70s, he talks about why drive-in theaters are dwindling away, and he seems to accept the fact that attending the drive-in is becoming an activity of the past.
“Most of the drive-ins go out (of business) because of the money value, not the lack of business,” he says. Drive-in owners across the country, Webb says, are selling their land to large corporations because of the increase in property value.
Drive-ins can’t compete with indoor theaters that have multiple screens running dozens of movies throughout the day. As for the small number of viewers the drive-ins draw away from the larger complexes, big conglomerate theaters see the drive-in as an annoyance, a “thorn in their side,” Webb says.
Webb says movie production companies — Pixar Animation Studios and Warner Brothers — claim about 70 percent of Holiday Twin’s total profit on movie tickets, which makes the concession stand its main source of income.
Webb says the drive-in frowns upon outside food and drinks but that the management picks the wars it wants to fight and ultimately wants people to enjoy themselves.
Owner won’t sell
You can easily drive by the theater. It’s different than most. Two screens nestled in three-foot grass and a single building no larger than a typical McDonald’s occupy the open land.
It may seem that this rarity is going to be outdated, but Webb refuses to sell the theater. He bought the theater in 1979 and says that people constantly ask him if he will ever sell the property.
Every time someone asks, he calmly says “no.”
Theater’s storied history
The theater wasn’t always a point of interest; it wasn’t until 1986 when “Top Gun” debuted that the drive-in was allowed to play first run pictures, the initial time frame when a film is debuted. That night, the drive-in did more business than all the other local theaters combined.
While the 1986 debut was a hit, more recently, Chuck Bucinski, the general manager, remembers a jam-packed night in 2006 when “Cars” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” opened at the drive-in. More than 900 cars packed into the 12-acre property that normally holds about 800.
Most people come to the drive-in because of the atmosphere. Jason Ritzman, a senior computer engineering major and five-year drive-in veteran, comes because of the ability to just hang out.
“Everybody hangs around, throws a football. It’s fun,” Ritzman said.
Webb says that the drive-in brings in people from all over the West. On multiple accounts, he has seen drivers licenses from states around the country, but more consistently he sees licenses from around Colorado and Wyoming.
Lynsie and Ben West, Loveland community members, often visit the theater for a feature, an activity that they’ve been participating in for the last 10 years. It wasn’t until recently that they began to take their son, Booker, with them.
Lynsie West says they love coming as a family because “It’s something fun to go to. It’s something different.”
While the drive-in stays busy in the summer, it thrives when the weather on the weekends are nice. People come early to let the kids run around and play with catch, which in turn draws them to the concession stand.
Webb says that he never wants to sell the theater and that he wants the property to be passed down from generation to generation. As the Fort Collins community continues to change, there’s one thing that will remain constant: the two white screens that come to life once the sun goes down.
Photo Editor Rachel Dembrun can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.