More Tales of the Prairie: The Kar-Vu Drive In…An American Icon

A drive-in theater is a form of cinema structure consisting of a large outdoor movie screen, a projection booth, a concession stand and a large parking area for automobiles. Within this enclosed area, customers can view movies from the privacy and comfort of their cars.

-Wikipedia

What a treat it has been watching a social media discussion of memories about the 38 years Ike and Ruby Ross and the rest of their family brought the southeast Colorado prairie one of the great icons of American civilization. Combining Hollywood with America’s car culture, the drive-in movie theater was once the entertainment highlight in U.S. cities and towns including Springfield, located extreme southeast Colorado.  There were as many as 4063 drive in theaters in 1958, according to The United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association.  Today there are currently only 366 drive-ins in the United States with a total of 606 screens. The states with the most theaters are Pennsylvania (33) and Ohio (31). Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii and Louisiana sadly have no drive-ins. Many other states are in a precarious position with only one or two.

Kar-Vu screen  back view Springfield Colorado

Kar-Vu screen Springfield Colorado

Photos: Compliments of Johnny Jameson

My own memories of the Kar-Vu drive came pouring back as I reviewed the Facebook comments about this topic on a Facebook group dedicated to those from Baca County Colorado. I think I may have been introduced to Rocky Balboa, The Italian Stallion, via the first Rocky movie which was shown at the Kar-Vu.

Rocky Balboa Footprints in Philadelphia

There were many comments posted such as:

“Sometimes it wouldn’t matter what the movie was, we just went for the pizza!!”

“Blackie Mason (at the ticket booth) bless his soul, he would always let you by and then say, go on enjoy the movie”

“Heck yes!! I miss the drive in!”

Debbie Kuroiwa recalls that the rows were unofficially divided as follows:

  1. 1st row was kids on blankets…
  2. 2nd row, kids in cars with no parents…
  3. 3rd and 4th rows, families and older couples…
  4. Anything behind those were high school kids and young couples….
  5. Back row? Heh heh heh….on Sunday night that is where the leftover kegs from the night before usually were!!!

Debbie also worked there and her comment on the pizza….

“ahh….her “secret ingredient”……I think that Beeps Greenlee (owner of a local hamburger joint), a few years ago, was trying to get me to share that special thing that Ruby did so he could make the same kind of pizza. I did not tell. There’s a code for those of us who worked out there!!  I have to admit though, that a Hungry Ike Burger is something I sometimes crave. such yumminess!!! I loved working out there….best summer job, ever!”

Anna Ross posted that her  grandmother Ruby Ross owned the Kar-vu Drive In and Capitol Theater (sit down theater in town)  for 30 years.  She says,

“I too have wonderful memories of standing on a pizza can in the back and helping her make pizzas. I loved watching movies with my cheese pizza, French fries, and my Coke. Some of the best memories from my childhood. I am so glad that so many people enjoyed that drive in and of course the pizza!”

The best thing about the drive-in when we were kids was playing on the swings before the movie started. There was a mad rush to cars  as soon as the previews started though if the movie was going to be a good one and not something your parents wanted to see.  Sam Irvin recalls going to the Kar-Vu in his grandma’s 71 Ford Galaxie 500 until he got the little navy blue Chevette which got 42 miles to the gallon.

Interestingly, in these social conversations I don’t think I have seen one single comment about the movies. It seems that most remember the pizza, Ike Burgers, and French Fries from the drive-in  movie theater in Springfield more than they remember any of the movies. The memories also revolve around cars, swinging before the movie started, sneaking into the show in the floorboard or trunk (sometimes with the help of grandma), a few helpers who overlooked the issue even when they knew someone was being snuck in, working at the Kar-Vu or most importantly, about the people who so diligently brought Baca nightly entertainment and great food during the summer, the Ross Family.

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