Parma Motor-Vu drive-in celebrates 60 years

Credit: Troy Colson / KTVB

The Parma Motor-Vu opened on July 2,1953.

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by Doug Petcash

Bio | Email | Follow: @DougPetcashKTVB

KTVB.COM

Posted on July 18, 2013 at 5:25 PM

Updated Saturday, Jul 20 at 2:33 PM

PARMA, Idaho -- As KTVB celebrates its diamond anniversary, we are also celebrating things that have been around as long as we have.

When we went on the air in July of 1953, we had some immediate competition from a brand new business that opened that very same month.

Sixty years later, families still look forward to loading up the car and heading over to the Parma Motor-Vu drive-in theater.

Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night through the summer a long line of cars waits to turn into the popular drive-in.

Once the chain on the gate is unlatched the friendly frenzy to find a good spot begins.

Some people stay in their cars to watch the movie.  "It's just comfortable," said Boyd and Annelise Woodward of Boise.  "We've got the speakers all the way around us so we can hear it really well."

Others break out the lawn chairs, like Anthony and Jessie Ashby of Middleton.  "Just a good time to relax and eat, like Americans do," said Jessie laughing.  

Still others put air mattresses in the beds of their pick-ups so their kids, who are wearing their pajamas, will be nice and comfy.  Cousins Hannah and Makayla say they bring a bunch of pillows and blankets, and like being outside to watch the movies. 

Inside the snack bar, it is a bit of controlled chaos.  Workers hustle to make sure the patrons get the drive-in favorites they crave; soft pretzels, hot dogs, pizza and, of course, popcorn. 

Overseeing it all is Parma Motor-Vu owner Karen Cornwell.  "It's awesome," said Cornwell. "Amazing to think that I'm still here running it."

She's been here since day one. Her mom and dad already owned a downtown Parma movie theater when they built the Motor-Vu in 1953. Cornwell said it was their big project to combat television, which was brand new to Idaho. 

Karen, her best friend Dutch and Dutch's brother Charles Wood were the first employees. 

Charles was the first ever projectionist at the Motor-Vu. "I thought it was a lot of responsibility for a 16-year-old," said Wood.

He was at the controls on the official opening night of July 2,1953.  Cornwell still has the original program that shows the night's double feature was "Trouble Along the Way" starring John Wayne and "Gunfighter" with Gregory Peck. 

"They had free admission, and the place was just crazy," said Wood. 

"It was just a time that we'll never see again," said Cornwell. 

But parts of that era are still there.  The original popcorn maker sits where it always has.  Cornwell boasts it makes the best popcorn anywhere.  The neon marquee still graces the space along US Highway 95, and the 60 x 80 foot movie screen is the original one built 60 years ago. 

"We've lost a lot of fence through the years to the wind," said Cornwell.  "I am so pleased that screen is still standing."

Like its sturdy screen, the Motor-Vu is still standing.  It has survived when so many other drive-ins folded. 

According to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association, the Motor-Vu is just one of 10 drive-ins left in Idaho and one of 357 in the whole United States.  That number is down from the highpoint of 4,063 in 1958. 

Cornwell says the theater survived in earlier years because her parents showed Spanish-language movies a couple days a week. 

These days she credits the fact that they have developed a family atmosphere.  "I don't play R-rated movies," she said.

And during this year of the Parma Motor-Vu's 60th anniversary, Cornwell says they have positioned the drive-in for a long future.  Just this year they switched from a film projector to a brand new digital projector. 

"If it's true what they say that there will be no film after this year, 2013, then I would be out of business if I had not gone digital," said Cornwell.

It really is a family affair.  Right now, a fourth generation is working here. Three of Cornwell's grandchildren are on the payroll.  And she says ownership will stay in the family.  "I have a daughter who wants to take over, and she's in a position to do that," said Cornwell.  "So she's just waiting for me to give her the word, and right now, I'm not quite ready."

Admission to the Parma Motor-Vu is $8 for adults for a double feature. Kids 11 and under are free.
Back in 1953 the charge for adults was $0.60. 

Click here for the complete list of other drive-in theaters in Idaho.
 

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