Coronavirus sparks blast from the past: drive-in movies

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

Photo contributed by Scott Stevens

Rebecca Grizzle remembers taking her son, about 5 years old at the time, to watch “Jurassic Park” at Lebanon’s MotorVu drive-in theater.
“I thought I was bringing him to a dinosaur movie, and then when it started getting into it, I was very scared and I kept looking at him,” she said.
He took it like a champ, understanding that “it’s just a movie,” she recalled.
The MotorVu has since been demolished, but now her son has a son of his own and will have a rare opportunity to watch a movie at a temporary drive-in sporting the old MotorVu sign.
The Lebanon Chamber of Commerce, which Grizzle now heads, in partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of the Greater Santiam, has plans to open a temporary drive-in movie theater at Cheadle Lake Park during the weekends in July.
“The response has been off the charts,” said Kris Latimer, executive director at the B&G Club. “We have been blown away by the positive response.”
Latimer, who grew up in Lebanon, also has memories of the original MotorVu.
She vividly remembers her parents making a bed for her in the back seat of their Gran Torino when she was about kindergarten-age, she said. She would wear her pajamas, have popcorn and soda, and stay up to watch the first feature, which was the kid-friendly one.
“I also have great memories of going with my gang of girlfriends in high school,” Latimer said. “Our group would take up an entire row.”
The idea to bring back the nostalgia started when Grizzle, executive director at the chamber, listened to a message left by someone in the community who wanted to see a drive-in theater installed in Lebanon.
The chamber has no power to install businesses, but Grizzle talked about it with Tom Oliver, chamber board president, and they realized they had the resources to do a one-time event, explained Grizzle, who wanted to split the proceeds with a local nonprofit.
“It may be a really good way to supplement our lost revenue this year. The Boys & Girls Club has lost revenue this year, too,” she said. “So we’re really hanging our hats on being able to make some of that up with bringing something that’s fun and nostalgic to people.”
Movies will be shown on Fridays and Saturdays. If the first weekend goes smoothly, there’s a small possibility more than one showing per day could take place, Grizzle said. There’s also a possibility that maybe, just perhaps, it can become an annual event.

An old photograph of the MotorVu sign shows two movies that were shown at the drive-in some time ago.
Photo courtesy of Sarah Anderson

The movies to be shown will be “Angry Birds 2,” “Men in Black International,” “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” and “Sonic the Hedgehog.”
The plan is to place shipping containers on top of the berm near the back of the park, and position a 26-foot-wide LED screen on top of that, Grizzle said. The LED screen should make viewing much easier than projection screens used in earlier years.
“You would normally have had to wait when you had a projection screen way in the back, and you really had to wait until the sun went down, and then some,” she said. “I’m hoping we don’t have to wait quite that late with an LED screen.”
Radio transmitters will be used to allow viewers to listen in on their car radio, she said.
As many as 200-plus parking spots are anticipated, with tiered price points and car height restrictions closer to the screen, Grizzle said. So the closer spots will cost more than spots further back, and vehicles with taller wheels will need to be in the back so as not to block the view.

An old photograph depicts the original MotorVu’s ticketing counter.
Photo courtesy of Sarah Anderson

Ticket prices are not yet settled, as expenditures to put on such an event still need to be worked out, but Grizzle expects the lowest cost will be around $20 per car. Tickets will only be sold online, at drivein-lebanon.com.
A couple of food vendors will be available, but families are allowed to bring their own food, if preferred, she said.
There will be some big expenses, and volunteers will be needed, but Grizzle believes having a drive-in theater during COVID is just what the community ordered.
“Drive-ins are going up all over the country, because it’s really the only way. People are dying to get out and do something,” Grizzle said. “I think this community is starving for it.”
She also believes this is an idea that would have had the Shelly Garrett stamp of approval.
“She would have liked that kind of thing,” Grizzle said of her predecessor at the chamber, who was known for her keen sense of how to stage community-pleasing and profitable events.
“This would have been very nostalgic for her. And I guaran-damn-tee you, she would have had much more colorful memories of the drive-in than I did.”

THIS IMAGE by Udell Engineering and Land Surveying depicts how parking for the temporary drive-in could be established at Cheadle Lake Park.