A night under the stars for the entire family
By Justin Criado
Published Wednesday, July 26, 2017 9:31 am
It's summertime in Colorado, and while the mountains await many, here in Delta there's a truly unique outdoor offering that can't be experienced in many other places across the country, let alone in-state.
The Tru Vu Drive-In is one of only 385 such outdoor movie spots left in America, according to owner Jeanne Dewsnup.
"We just went to a drive-in convention back in Florida," she said. "You just get to know people in the drive-in business."
She mentioned The Star Drive-In Theater in Montrose as the only other drive-in that currently calls the Western Slope home. (She calls the relationship with her nearby neighbor "friendly competition.") The next closest one is Pueblo's Mesa Drive-In, and there are only six total drive-in movie theaters still in business at this moment in all of Colorado.
Jeanne, along with her husband Stan, purchased the Tru Vu Drive-In, the Big Sky Drive-In on Crawford Avenue and the Egyptian Theatre in downtown Delta nearly 50 years ago. She admits the exact dates have been lost to history, forever the topic of a spousal quarrel.
"Actually, probably right around 50 years, but we could never agree whether we came here in '66 or '67, so around 50 years," she said.
Living in Salt Lake City, Utah, at the time, the Dewsnups saw the properties for sale in a cinema-centric publication and decided to check into it. The Tru Vu, opened in 1954, was the last property the Dewsnups officially purchased.
"These theaters were for sale for a cheap, cheap, cheap price. We came over here for a weekend and here we are, right?" Jeanne quipped.
Now a historic landmark, the Tru Vu is the only remaining Delta drive-in. The Big Sky fell victim to financial hardships after area coal mines closed in the late 1980s, Dewsnup explained.
"We were just spinning our wheels, spinning our wheels, so we decided to put one drive-in down," she said. "We asked the customers which drive-in they would close down. They said that one. They said the restrooms were nicer over here. That was the deciding factor."
Longtime employee Teresa Wells is the first person to welcome people to the drive-in from her ticket booth post.
For the past 30 years she's worked for the Dewsnups at both drive-in locations. She admits when she first started, her main job responsibility was cleaning up the concession stand, a task she doesn't necessarily miss. She laughs now when asked what keeps her coming back every summer.
"I don't know. I've just done it all my life," she said, before adding that her family (five siblings, and now, children) also worked at the drive-ins. " ... My family has always worked here. That was another reason; it's kind of a family thing."
During a recent July night ("Spider-Man: Homecoming" and "Baby Driver" were playing), Wells greeted carloads of patrons, one after another, with a smile, often joking with the drivers about price and contraband.
During a short break in the line, she recalled the old Spanish Nights at the former Big Sky spot.
"I didn't speak Spanish, so I didn't really work those nights, but I sure could clean up after them," she said. " ... I love Delta. Like where else is there a drive-in? I like to be part of that."
The price of admission ($8.50 for two features) is still the best deal in town.
The Barbiches and Weimers, both from Grand Junction, agree.
"You can't beat the price for two movies. We get out here to have a good time," said Johnny Barbich, while watching the sunset with his wife Ruthana. "Compared to being in a movie theater, there's just so much more freedom. It's just a great experience."
Adam Weimer added the kids don't necessarily have to be on their best behavior at the drive-in, either.
"They don't have to sit still and be perfectly quiet," he said.
Gaggles of children ran around the gravel lot in anticipation of the pending super hero film. Some found themselves under the enormous movie screen, comparing their heights against the white backdrop. A small group formed just outside the concession stand entrance where at least three youths yelled up at a mysterious figure that watched the masses from above.
"We know your name!," one boy proclaimed. "It's Peter Parker!"
Spiderman didn't try to deny it; he knew he'd been made.
Employee Adam DeAngelo,
along with girlfriend Mary Morgan Hinz, has been assuming different roles at Dewsnup's theaters for the better part of three years.
He explained he's been Superman, Beast from Beauty and the Beast, and Captain Jack Sparrow, among others.
"A lot of fun costumes," he said.
DeAngelo, I mean Spiderman, wandered through the growing crowd, stopping to take pictures, squirting unsuspecting fans with water webs and generally having a good time.
"A lot of good people. It's just a good, friendly environment," he said. "There's just not many (drive-ins) around here anymore. It's always a good crowd."
The drive-in's capacity is around 200 vehicles, Dewsnup said. She added turkey buzzard and eagle nests were recently found on the grounds.
She takes a moment in the projector room to explain how the technology has evolved over the years, from clunky, 35 millimeter films to digital hard drives. Change is inevitable. (She said the newest digital projector cost a total of $93,000.)
She quickly added, though, the concession stand, which serves up cinema classics like popcorn, soda and nachos, hasn't undergone many renovations since the beginning.
"This snack bar, every year we try to do something new, but actually the snack bar is like when we first bought it," she said.
The sea foam green and off-white color scheme, paired with the neon-red lettering, completes the drive-in's quintessential 1950s nostalgia, which may be part of the reason so many people travel there.
"We just get people from all over everywhere. Grand Junction. Fruita. Palisade, even Carbondale. When they come from that far away they make a night of it; get a motel and go to dinner, and stuff like that," Dewsnup said. "You'd be surprised of how many people have never been to a drive-in before."
After her husband Stan passed away 10 years ago, Jeanne admitted she found solace in the business that has created happy memories for so many.
"I don't know what I would have done with myself after he died, if I didn't have this to go to," she said. "I know where I'm going to be from the middle of April to the middle of September."