As one of the few remaining original drive-in theatres in Texas and the U.S., the Brazos Drive-In Theatre is a draw for those who want to experience a blast from the past.
But the need to blast into the 21st century is threatening to turn out the lights at the drive-in that opened in 1952 to an eager crowd of boys with Pomade and girls with bobby socks.
In the ensuing decades, Granbury’s drive-in survived the killing of a mockingbird, Saturday night fevers, fatal attractions, the silencing of lambs and missions that were impossible.
But it may not survive technology.
With movies going digital, the drive-in on West Pearl Street needs new equipment that will cost about $70,000, according to Claudia Southern, president of Preserve Granbury. Owner Jennifer Miller said that “electricians” and “hidden costs” will bring the price tag up to around $100,000.
Local historians and merchants in the historic district say they want to help Miller raise the money so that the drive-in can stay open, but it’s a sticky situation. The theatre is a historic landmark and tourist attraction, yes. But it is also a privately owned, for-profit business.
“It’s a very difficult situation, and we’ve had lots of discussions about it,” Southern said, adding that Preserve Granbury board members are looking at ways to help raise money to save the drive-in. “All of us historians care deeply about that theatre.”
Southern said, however, that the theatre cannot “be under our purview” like the historic Granbury Opera House was. Last year, Preserve Granbury led a community-wide fundraising effort in hopes of expanding the performance venue.
They were able to do so because the Opera House is owned by Granbury Historic Properties, a nonprofit set up by the city. Preserve Granbury also is a nonprofit and, as such, cannot give money to a for-profit business.
“We cannot take the lead or work on (the theatre fundraising) as a foundation,” Southern explained.
Scott Young, president of the Historic Granbury Merchants Association (HGMA) and also a member of Preserve Granbury’s board, said efforts are under way to figure out how best to conduct a fundraising campaign.
“HGMA and Preserve Granbury will definitely support and promote (the fundraising effort) and do whatever we need to do,” Young said.
Miller said she appreciates the efforts being made on behalf of the theatre she has owned for 27 years.
“I went 15 years without a paycheck just to keep it alive,” she said. “There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. It may be that way with the drive-in. I can’t raise this child any longer. But it’s a great business, and there are wonderful people stepping in to help.”
Southern compared the upgrades needed at the drive-in to DVDs taking the place of VHS tapes, and to recent technology changes with televisions.
“Charter Cable said if you have a certain kind of TV, you have to get a box. I have two TVs at my house that aren’t working because I haven’t gone and gotten a box,” she said. “It’s that step-up in technology that we’re experiencing on a lot of levels.”
She added: “It’s not like (the theater) is going to go dark tomorrow, but it will go dark without this money.”
HGMA member Kay Collarain agreed with Young and Southern about the need for the community to help save one of its historic treasures.
“I think that it needs to be saved, absolutely,” she said. “If there’s any way we can have a fundraiser to help Jennifer out, then we should do it.”
Young said that the drive-in is “Americana.”
“We talk to people, especially in the summer, all the time who come down specifically to go to the drive-in. Usually, it’s a family with kids,” said Young, noting that the drive-in shows “family-friendly” movies.
“I think it’s very definitely a tourist attraction.”
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