Damaged drive-in theater is on course to reopen

Chris Wagner walks past metal strips from the Sunset Auto Vie movie screen, which was blown down last Monday by powerful wind in Grangeville.

GRANGEVILLE — After enduring a one-two punch of the destruction of his drive-in theater screen in a windstorm and now a viral pandemic that has shut down the movie industry, the owner of Sunset Auto-Vue drive-in hopes to be back up and running by early summer.

Chris Wagner, who owns both the popular drive-in and the Blue Fox Theater in Grangeville, said work is underway to repair the damage to the drive-in screen inflicted during a fierce storm in the first part of January.

“It’s been a big setback,” Wagner said of his double troubles.

Although the drive-in was closed for the winter when the damage occurred, it usually reopens in mid-May and continues through the fall, drawing movie-goers from around the region, in a throwback to an earlier era, to sit in their cars and watch flicks on the big screen.

Because drive-in theaters are so rare these days, Wagner worried that he would not be able to find a company that could fix the damaged screen. Local businesses, however, stepped up to the plate and Wagner said Advanced Welding of Grangeville is set to do the welding and fabrication of the metal structure, while Holcomb Construction, also of Grangeville, will put the pieces back together once they’re rebuilt.

Wagner said he does not have a timeline for the work to be completed, but reopening depends on the movie production companies.

“It’s all about the film companies releasing the films and it’s got to be in a safe environment and all that,” he said. “Once the companies start releasing film and the governor of Idaho, or whoever the proper authorities are, open theaters back up, we’ll reopen and the Blue Fox will be able to open up at the same time.”

The drive-in was built in 1955 by Wagner’s father and grandfather, Al Wagner Jr. and Al Wagner Sr. In 2007, the screen was blown down in a storm that produced winds as high as 80 mph. Chris Wagner rebuilt from that debacle with a modern design that was intended to withstand gusts as high as 110 mph. But in early January gusts clocked as high as 55 mph toppled the 32 foot by 72 foot screen a second time, leaving a wreckage of twisted metal that resembled a war zone.

Wagner said the destruction was covered by insurance, but he declined to name what he thinks the cost of replacement will be.

In the meantime, Wagner said he’s doing some maintenance at the Blue Fox on tasks that needed to be done.

Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.

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