Popular Idaho drive-in theater destroyed by high winds

Posted at 2:32 PM, Jan 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-13 16:32:20-05

GRANGEVILLE, Idaho (AP) — The screen of a 65-year-old drive-in movie theater in Idaho was destroyed by high winds and the owner says he hopes to rebuild.

First, though, he needs to find someone who can do the specialized work.

Chris Wagner, owner of Sunset Auto Vue drive-in theater in Grangeville, told The Lewiston Tribune that the screen has only been damaged by winds twice since it was built in 1955. The first time, in 2007, he rebuilt with a modern design that was intended to withstand wind gusts up to 110 mph.

But last week high winds estimated by the National Weather Service at about 60 mph, flattened the 32-by-72-foot outdoor screen, leaving behind a mass of twisted metal.

“I’ll be making a call to the manufacturer, but he was 75 years old when he showed up the last time (in 2007) to do it,” Wagner said. “That’s a huge concern of mine. We’ll rebuild, but the biggest issue is there’s not a lot of people that do this. It’s not like it’s a thriving industry.”

There are only a handful of drive-in theaters in Idaho, and, an online directory of such theaters, lists only about 330 in the United States. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, estimates indicate, there were more than 4,000 drive-in theaters across the U.S.

Wagner has insurance, but he’s not sure if it will be enough to cover the damage.

“I took an engineer out there (Monday), and he immediately found the problem, what had failed,” Wagner said. “Some of the bolts had sheared off — real critical bolts — and once they gave, then it just stressed everything out.”

Wagner hopes to have the big screen rebuilt by May, in time for the summer season. The drive-in is a popular destination for locals and out-of-town travelers who come to enjoy a movie in the warm summer twilight.

“It’s nice to see out-of-county license plates,” Wagner said. “Of course, the locals support it awfully well, and the surrounding towns do, as well. So I’ve always been thankful for the support that they’ve shown.”