Nostalgia permeates Buena Vista theater

With summer upon us, Buena Vista’s historic drive-in theater is kicking off its weekly showings of classic entertainment. In an era where giant cineplex movie operations reign, the Comanche Drive-in not only provides a family-friendly weekend event for movie lovers but also a nostalgic gateway to the past showcasing a vintage approach to “going to the movies.”

The Comanche was built in 1966 by John and Pearl Groy and is still operated under Groy family ownership. John Jr. and his wife, Barb, have been a part of keeping this tradition alive in the valley for over 30 years. With assistance from the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association, the drive-in garnered a listing on the National Register of Historic Places two years ago.

Some 300 or so drive-in theaters remain in operation in the U.S., according to drive-in movie database, including only nine in the state of Colorado. Along with its nostalgia, the Comanche retains appeal for its location near Mt. Princeton and stunning views of the Sawatch Range. With a larger screen than most drive-ins, the original structure for concessions and films running on 35-millimeter reels, the Comanche remains a truly vintage drive-in theater experience. Even the popcorn, popped in a Manley popcorn machine purchased in 1954, reflects this bygone era, and it’s the best popcorn you will ever have, according to Barb.

“Besides some repairs and maintenance, we have kept everything in its original form as much as possible. We think it is part of the fun element that we provide for people,” Barb said.

The movies played each week range from Shrek to 1970s classics like American Graffiti and Grease. She explained that, while she and John try to bring in a variety of films to cater to a wide audience, the number of movies still being produced on 35-millimeter film is dwindling, making it difficult to find newer movies. The waiting lists for films make it difficult to maintain a regular schedule for the entire season, but their weekly movies are always listed on their Facebook page and website as well as on posters around town.

In spite of the difficult search for 35 mm’s, they are in the works of updating their projecting capability and transitioning to a digital reel. Groy also added that this has been a long process due to the high costs involved in switching over, but if anyone would like to help out there is a link to donate on their website comanchedrivein.com.

Next up, the Comanche will show The Adams Family. Showtimes are Friday through Tuesday each weekend beginning Memorial Day and continuing through September. The shows begin at dusk, which is approximately 8:50 p.m. currently. The gates open an hour prior, and people arrive early for tailgating prior to catching a movie under the stars. The audio is broadcast through car radios for an optimal viewing experience.

“I think I just love providing something nostalgic for people to enjoy. Being able to hear them say they look forward to coming back each summer and getting to know the people through our drive-in is just a pure joy for us. It is a wonderful feeling and truly a happy job,” said Barb.