Drive back to nostalgia at Montrose's Star Drive-inJul 26, 2021 02:34PM ● By Jan Weeks
Step back in time at this 71-year-old theater
The aroma of popcorn and hot dogs waft from the concession stand as theatrical music and dialogue emanate from crackly speakers. Have you time traveled back to a warm summer night in 1955? Nope. You’re at Montrose’s Star Drive-In, no DeLorean needed.
The Star is one of only 300 drive-in theaters still operating in the U.S.—a steep decline from more than 4,000 drive-in theaters operating in the 1950s. The Star is also one of only eight drive-ins left in Colorado, and the only one still owned by the family who started it.
“My dad, a farmer, had heard that drive-ins were the coming thing, so he and my mom broke ground for the Star in 1949. It opened on April 19, 1950,” said owner Pam Friend.
Friend, 69, speaks fondly of the “good old days,” when the movies served as a special date night and fun family activity.
The Star’s first film was the western “The Younger Brothers,” followed by a cartoon. A show cost 50 cents per person. However, on Wednesdays, people could pack the car with kids, friends and relatives and pay only $1 for the whole bunch.
Friend’s father, George DeVries, continued farming while his family helped run the drive-in. When she was 5 years old, Friend started sweeping floors and running change and fresh ticket rolls to the cashier’s kiosk. When she graduated from high school in 1970, she began managing the whole shebang. In 1979, she leased the theater from her father and has been in charge ever since.
Even though she has been running the show, literally, for 50 years, Friend still gets butterflies in her stomach when she starts a movie.
“I get very nervous, afraid something will go wrong,” she said.
Once the show starts, however, Friend sometimes turns to mischief.
“When ‘Night of the Living Dead’ first came out [in 1968], we sneaked out just as the zombies were stumbling toward the door and jumped on bumpers of cars to scare viewers. Boy, did those kids scream!” she recalled.
Entering the digital age
For Friend, the best thing about running the drive-in theater is seeing families enjoying time together. Kids use to run to the playground in front of the 80-foot by 90-foot screen and teens sat on car hoods using the windshields as backrests. Although the playground is long gone, Friend said kids still come to the movies in their pajamas.
In addition to the traditional “squawk box” speakers, viewers can now stream the sound on their car’s FM radios.
She was excited to see families returning for the Star’s opening spring showing of “Godzilla vs. Kong.” While the film was also available on the online streaming platform HBO Max, many people still came out to see it on the big screen.
There’s more to running a theater than making sure the popcorn’s fresh and flipping the projector’s “on” switch. Back in the days of reel movies, Friend booked a film a month in advance. Now, she works with a distribution agent in Montana to book the films, which are ordered on Mondays and arrive digitally on Fridays.
While Friend has had the help of family in the past, the tragic death of her daughter to cancer in November 2020, and her husband’s sudden death in February this year, means there’s no one to pass her legacy on to.
“I’ll just keep running the Star as long as I can and see what happens,” she said.
Drive on in
Movies run every night through the summer, with opening and showtimes dependent on when sunset. (Her friends like to tease her by asking, “Pam, why don’t you ever run matinees?”)
In late summer when school resumes, show nights will be limited to Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For more information on movie showtimes and COVID restrictions, call the Star Drive-in at 249-6170 or visit www.stardrivein.com.
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