GRANBURY -- In the 1950s and 60s, the drive-in theater was a fixture along American freeways.
But now, they’re icons of a distant past -- nostalgic reminders of an outright different landscape.
Just 368 remain in the country, according to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association. Fifteen of those are in Texas.
And all of them can spot that final reel.
Hollywood is changing; eliminating the 35mm film that’s currently projected by the vast majority of drive-ins and replacing it with digital technology. The switchover is planned for 2014.
Spikes in land value, aging owners, and the inherent difficulty in competing with the big-box, air-conditioned chains killed off more than 1,000 drive-ins between 1978 and 1988, the trade group says.
The digital conversion could be the final act for many of these, one of which is in Granbury, 35 miles southwest of Fort Worth.
“It’s my child. I’ve raised it. It’s as old as I am,” said Jennifer Miller, owner of the Brazos Drive-In Theatre. “We’re a year apart.”
Miller speaks of the heart and history in the more than 60-year-old cinema, but she knows it could fade. Converting to digital could cost as much as $100,000.
“We, as a family, went to the drive-ins in Fort Worth until they closed,” Miller said. “And then to see this one go, it would be very difficult for me.”
They’ve tried to be creative to wrangle the money together. They entered a drive-in competition, hoping to win a free digital screen conversion, but lost.
The tradition of families and friends making the trek to the drive-in could be coming to an end. Where else but a drive-in can a family of six pay $20 for a carload to see a movie?
“They just want that mom-and-pop, good, wholesome entertainment; something to do,” Miller said.
“I think it would be detrimental to the community, because the next generation will not get to experience this,” said Brenda Stewart, who has teamed up with Miller to save the cinema.
If their efforts fail, the Brazos will remain. The screen and concession shop are considered historical.
“So it will look like a drive-in, but there may be 1,000 apartments in the parking lot,” Miller said.
She argues that exchanging something old for something new isn’t a step forward. And the new modern drive-ins simply aren’t the same.
“We are 61 years old, and the Brazos Drive-In is the real thing,” Miller said. “Everybody can build something to look old, but it’s new.”