Although up for sale, the Davis Drive-In will open as usual later this spring. However, the 41-year-old theater and northern Davis County landmark is still headed the way of many drive-ins - extinction.
Sitting on 23 acres, the theater will open Friday, May 3, and will probably not close until early October, weather permitting, after nearly a six-month season.Charlie McElyea, Layton, has worked as a part- or full-time employee at the Davis Drive-In for the past 35 years - 25 years as the manager. Back in 1945, the drive-in was the only business around, with open fields everywhere, McElyea said.
The drive-in is owned by Tony Rudman of Salt Lake's Westates Inc., who is selling the site under the belief that it is worth more as prime commerical property than as a drive-in, McElyea said. Rudman also owns some indoor theaters that he hopes to sell as well, he added.
And if the Davis Drive-In doesn't sell by next year, Rudman would likely open it again for another season, McElyea said.
The price of the drive-in is not being made public, and neither Rudman nor the Realtor in charge of the sale would return telephone calls to the Deseret News.
Ironically, the Davis Drive-In is located just across I-15 from the Layton Hills Mall, where a new 10-plex theater opened late last year, bringing the number of indoor theater screens in Layton alone to 16.
"Drive-ins are just a thing of the past," McElyea said. "Indoor movie attendance, dollar houses and videos are raising heck . . . . Drive-ins are a lot more expensive to operate."
While indoor theaters can make a lot of profit from selling concessions, there's no way to stop drive-in patrons from bringing in their own food. McElysea said. In fact, that unique factor has become the trademark of a drive-in.
Since the drive-in uses carbon-type projectors, movie rentals are particularly expensive, he said. Theaters must turn over about 80 percent of their gate profits back to the movie distributors on first-run movies. For second-run flicks, the figure is about 50 percent, but such films attract a lot fewer cars.
In the 1950s, McElyea could rent a new movie for only $150 a week.
Vandalism and theft also plague drive-ins - a stolen or broken car speaker costs more than $30 to replace.
The Davis Drive-In employs 12 to 16 people and can accommodate 800 to 900 cars on each side of its twin screen.
McElyea said that while a good first-run movie can still pack the drive-in full on a summer weekend, videos in particular are causing a decline in attendance.
Some drive-ins - like the Riverdale's Motor-Vu and Salt Lake's Redwood - have expanded their operations to include weekly swap meets. Mc-Elyea said he tried swap meets, but they didn't work well because the sponsor quickly abandoned them.