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Motor-Vu Drive-In Celebrates 60 Years

DALLAS -- The sun dips lower, casting a warm glow in the sky as cars begin to trickle into the Motor-Vu Drive-In on an unseasonably hot evening last week.With some schools already finished for the year, business is brisk for a weeknight, a hint of things to come as the summer rush is set to begin at the Motor-Vu.It's a special time of year at the drive-in that is celebrating its 60th year of continuous operation this season."It's nice to be out in the open, especially on a night like this, instead of being in a theater where you are cramped up with a bunch of people," said Joe Davis of Dallas, commenting on the comfortable preshow temperatures. "Plus, it's an experience -- the experience of going to a drive-in."Davis and friend Mark Dunbar piled in a truck with four kids -- Kaitlyn and Lizzie Davis and Jadyn and Camdyn Dunbar -- to watch Thursday's double feature showing of "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" and "Star Trek: Into Darkness."The elder Davis and Dunbar relax in lawn chairs, while the kids are all sitting in the back of the truck, ready with blankets and warm hats for after the sun goes down Photo by Pete Strong Twenty-year-old Tahnae Baker of Dallas gives a customer their change as the sun sets behind the gate at the Motor-Vu Drive-In Friday night. "We come at least once or twice a year," Davis said. "The kids like it. It's probably more fun for them.""And the cost is great for first-run movies," Mark Dunbar added. "It cost $30 for all of us." Drive-in owner Jeff Mexico, who took over and refurbished the Motor-Vu with his wife, Robin, in 2007, said keeping the prices reasonable -- $18 per car for up to three people or $5 per person for four or more -- is one of the main objectives of the theater."We try to make it family affordable," Mexico said. "We want people to have a good time and not have to break the bank."While there is a fully stocked snack bar onsite, people are also allowed to bring their own food, which can make the outing even less expensive."It's like having a picnic, but in your car," Mexico said.Using that formula, and more than a few updates, the Motor-Vu still is going strong after 60 years, Mexico said.Original owners Don and Jeri Wernli opened the drive-in on July 22, 1953. It survived the decline in popularity of drive-ins in recent decades, but had fallen into disrepair before the Mexicos took over in 2007, part of a package sale of former owner Ron Burch's other businesses, the Fox Theatre and Courtyard Coffeehouse in downtown Dallas.Already the owners of revitalized indoor theaters in Albany and Stayton, the couple had some experience in bringing theaters back to life. They took the reins from the retiring Burch and set about restoring the drive-in. Graphic & Photos by Pete Strong Fun at the Dallas Motor-Vu Drive-In They refurbished the snack bar -- installing air conditioning and cash registers -- and restored the aging screen before opening for the next season."We wanted to put it back to the way it was in 1953," Mexico said. "We had it all ready to go before we opened in 2008. It's been a really popular place, even though it's only open six months out of the year. It's done really well for us."To keep the streak going, this season Mexico invested in leasing a digital projector for the drive-in."We are here to stay," Mexico said, adding he is planning an anniversary celebration for later this summer.That's good news for the crowd that came out Thursday."I like that it still exists -- that we still have an opportunity to go," said Salem resident Allissa Phoenix.Phoenix, who attends Western Oregon University, came to the Motor-Vu with fellow WOU students Nicole Larson, Petra Schenfeld and Dylan Mata-Lovatl during "dead week," the week before final exams.Munching on popcorn sitting in the back of an SUV, the foursome said going to the drive-in is a much more relaxed way to see a movie."You can just be comfortable watching the movie, talk to people and socialize," said Mata-Lovatl, pointing out that others in the audience had thrown couches and mattresses in the back of trucks to watch the double feature."You can be creative with the way you watch the movie," Phoenix added.Thursday was the first time the WOU students had been to the Motor-Vu, saying they didn't have time to try it in the fall before the theater closed for the season."I'm so glad they opened before we left (for the summer)," Schenfeld said.Although Mexico can be found at the theater Thursday through Sunday nights every week, he still appreciates the chance "just to see all the families creating memories."It's reminiscent of his own childhood."A lot of people bring their families out because they have never been to a drive-in," he said. "When I was younger, I remember going to a drive-in. You wouldn't think later in life it would be a big deal, but it is. A lot of the memories I have are from the drive-in, with family."

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