Mitchell Drive Inn Movie Theater Closes
by Tom Hanson, Anchor
September 23, 2013 6:40 PM
A South Dakota landmark has turned out the lights. The Starlite Drive Inn Movie Theater in Mitchell closed for good over the weekend. Hollywood film distributors will stop releasing movies on film next year, and some theaters like the Starlite don't make enough to justify the 70-thousand dollar cost of converting to digital. The combination of a short summer season and a smaller population base forced the owner to shut down. But Saturday night, car after car rolled into the Starlite. The occupants knowing it would be their last chance.
Michaelin McCurry came with her husband and kids. “It’s kind of a sad day but we're glad we're here tonight for the last night”.
“It’s been here a long time, and now it’s all gone” said Chris Wehrmann.
Movie goer Brian Gibson says he came to “have one last blast before we say goodbye.”
Inside the concession stand built in 1949, the smell of freshly popped popcorn drew hungry movie goers inside. For much of the movie, Despicable Me II, a long line extended out the concession stand doors. Two machines churn out batch after batch to keep up with the demand. All supervised by Jeff Logan, he's owned the theater since 1976. He was trying to stay busy as the reality set in, which is not hard to do since this appears to be a near record crowd. The drive inn was so full, Cars were parked on the grass at the back of the theater. Logan says he hasn’t had a night this busy since Burt Reynolds starred in “Smoky and the Bandit” in the mid 70’s.
Logan spent much of his time talking with people, including former owner Fran Teuber who showed up for the final night. Teuber and her husband Rod Hanson were the second owners of the drive inn, buying it from Harry Nultemeier. Teuber remembers spending summer nights running the theater during the golden age of drive inns.
“The biggest grossing movie was Elvis Presley, Blue Hawaii, it was a big crowd”, said Teuber.
But over the years those big crowds dwindled, and Logan came to the conclusion that this would be the drive inn's last summer. In the projection booth he started the last movie on the last night and Logan admits to feeling mixed emotions, sad that it’s coming to an end, but happy to see so many people on the final night.
“I'm thrilled it’s like this, this will be a great memory,” said Logan.
An hour and 38 minutes later the movie credits are rolling through the projector, and the crowd is leaving. That's when reality really starts to sink in for the longtime owner.
“A flood of memories of all the years all the things we’ve done and have happened it’s just really sad that all that is gone now, it’s only a memory won't exist anymore in a real way,” said Logan.
Logan owns indoor theaters in Mitchell, Huron and Del Rapids, so he will keep busy.
The drive in will be put in mothballs, so to speak, until another use can be found for the property north of the Mitchell rodeo grounds