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MADE IN IDAHO: Parma Motor-Vu still 'popping' after 65 years

Posted at 10:23 AM, Aug 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-13 17:35:34-05

PARMA, Idaho -- A short 30-minute drive from Nampa, you'll find what Parma resident Karen Cornwell calls her "baby:" the Parma Motor-Vu, one of the area's last surviving drive-in movie theaters. This "baby," though, is now over 65 years old! "In 1953," Cornwell says, "television had come to the Valley and it was turning the movie industry upside down. And my dad thought a drive-in movie theater would help combat television."

So, her dad and mom built the Parma icon in the '50s and operated it until 1976, which is when Cornwell and her husband took over. Cornwell laughs, "I've been here ever since!" 

And so has the theater's famous popcorn machine, which Cornwell says is the highlight of the Motor-Vu. "It's the original, it's 66 years old, still popping the best corn in the valley!" 

And while the popcorn hasn't changed much over the decades, Cornwell says the industry's technology sure has, and her drive-in right along with it. From its infancy in delicate film, to its adolescence with what Cornwell calls the "big reels" to now, the "all grown up" digital age. "When I walk out that door," says Cornwell, "at 9:40, boom, it's gonna light up and we'll have a picture on the screen."

Cornwell's entire family has grown up at the Motor-Vu, with all of her children and now 7 of her grandchildren having worked at the theater. These days, though, Cornwell is getting ready to hang up the film reel for good, but don't worry, the drive-in, is in good hands. Cornwell's daughter Susan Haaheim is getting ready to take over the ticket booth. "I'm more than thrilled to be able to pass it on to the family," states Cornwell.

Haaheim says she grew up working at the drive-in, and has fond memories of watching her grandfather bust would-be rule-breakers."I remember being at the ticket booth and have my grandfather ask people to open the trunk cause people are trying to sneak in," she laughs. "And if there were people in there, he'd make 'em pay!"

Neither mother nor daughter can quite put their finger on what makes the drive-in such a draw for Treasure Valley families, they just know, it's never lost its family-friendly appeal, and they say that won't change, even with a changing of the guard. Says Haaheim, "It's just an amazing place, it's magical."

If you want to see movie times and prices for the Parma Motor-Vu, and directions on how to find that famous popcorn, you can visit them online here.