When sitting down for a movie, what if the theater itself could transport you to another time and place? From the seats to the decor, historic picture houses and drive-in theaters in Western Colorado have celebrated cinema for nearly a century.
There is not a single chain-owned movie theater in the Uncompahgre Valley. The theaters we do have, however, are monuments to a lost time when the theaters themselves were built with themes to symbolize far away places and mirror the magic of the silver screen.
In the 1920s the motion picture industry was booming. With soaring revenues independent promoters raced to build the most lavish, elaborate, attractive theaters. The Uncompahgre Valley was no different.
On October 1, 1928 the 400-seat Egyptian Theatre opened on Main Street in Downtown Delta. The elaborate decor inside, including custom made curtains detailing Egyptian themes, became an instant hit with movie goers.
A year later on October 31, 1929, the Fox Theater in downtown Montrose opened a single screen theater with about 700 seats. The theater was built with a Moorish/Middle Eastern theme that survives to this day. Over the ensuing decades two additional screening rooms were built, the Little Fox and the Penthouse theaters.
Both theaters were designed by Denver architect Montana S. Fallis, who also designed the Mayan Theatre in Denver. Both the Egyptian and Fox have undergone renovations since they first opened, with an aim to preserve as much of the 1920s theme, while modernizing the theaters themselves with digital projection equipment to keep up with the latest technology.
The valley also has a pair of still operating drive-in movie theaters, the Star Drive-In Theatre in Montrose and the Tru Vu Drive In Theatre in Delta. The Tru Vu was built in 1956 on eight acres, and has a capacity of about 300 cars. The Star is the nation’s oldest drive-in still owned and operated by the founding family; it’s one of only nine in Colorado still showing movies to people watching from the comfort of their vehicles.
In 2022 the Star will open for its 73rd season. George and Elizabeth DeVries, built the theater in 1949 in a field that was then at the edge of town. “Dad put everything the family had to build this place,” Pam DeVries Friend fondly recalls. “I can remember my grandmother — my father’s mother — telling me this was the stupidest thing, why would he go out on a limb and risk all of his savings to build this place. He wanted to open a bar or a drive-in.”
The first movie that played at the Star was “The Younger Brothers,” a 1949 Western about a pair of outlaw siblings who rode with the notorious gang led by Frank and Jesse James but are trying to go straight.
From the birth of the drive-in movie theater — in 1933, in Camden, N.J. — to its mid-20th-century peak in popularity, the outdoor icon has become a symbol of Americana and a time capsule of cultural heritage. In 1958, at the height of drive-ins’ ubiquity, America boasted more than 4,000 in operation. Today, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 300.
Colorado Drive Ins still open
• Best Western Movie Manor: Monte Vista
• Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In Theater: Minturn
• Comanche Drive-In: Buena Vista
• Denver Mart Drive-In: Denver
• 88 Drive-In: Commerce City
• Holiday Twin: Fort Collins
• Mesa Drive-In: Pueblo
• Star Drive-In: Montrose
• Tru Vu Drive-In: Delta