from Boulder Outdoor Theatre:
The Holiday Drive-In Theatre opened July 9, 1953
at a cost of nearly $150,000. Claude Graves and Wilbur R. Williams
(also owned the Flatirons Theatre on University Hill as well as
another local drive-in, the Motorena,) were the owners. The contractor
was Tom Griffing Drive-In Construction Co of Albuquerque, N.M.
(Daily Camera) This was the 90th drive-in theater built by the
company. Sixteen acres were acquired, 11 which were used initially.
(Daily Camera) Local labor was used for the construction of the
frame work for the large screen. Interior roads were wide enough
for two lanes of cars. This allowed patrons to drive forward to
exit, instead of having to back out as in other drive-ins. The ticket
office was constructed of ornamental stones from Lyons quarries.
The theater served 650 cars, and had the latest in-car sound receiver
sets, which were anchored on poles set in a triangular shaped block
of concrete. Typical of Hollingshead's "invention," the
Holiday Drive-In featured elevated ramps so that the car windshields
were in line with the screen.
Prior to the Holiday Theater, Claude Graves and
Wilbur Williams were associated with the Westwood Theatre in Denver
and later with the Flatirons Theater. Graves began his theatre career
with his father-in-law, William Menigh. They established the State
Theatre, the first independently owned movie theater in Boulder,
in a remodeled grocery store at 1427 Pearl Street. (Daily
Camera) This theater was later sold to Fox Intermountain, which
owned all the other movie theaters in town, and was supplied with
products from 20th Century Fox. Graves left Boulder to work in the
theatre business in Albuquerque, where he met Wilbur Williams. (Daily
Camera) The duo had started the Motorena Drive-In southeast of Boulder,
which opened before the Holiday. (Carnegie Library)
A contest was held for naming the new drive-in
north of Boulder. Several hundred names were submitted, and the
winner of a lifetime pass went to C.L. Onsgard for suggesting the
name "Holiday." Compared with other names typically given
to drive-ins across the country, it was a somewhat unusual choice,
but it appealed to the special committee. (Daily Camera) and might
have been inspired by the Flagstaff Mountain Star, erected a few
Always important to the success of drive-ins was
the concession stand. The Holiday's concession stand was located
in the center of the drive in, with the first floor containing the
concession parlor and rest rooms, and the second floor the projection
booth. The concession department stretched across the front of the
building and was separated into departments: ice cream, cold drinks,
popcorn and candy, and hot food (such as hot dogs, barbecue sandwiches,
etc.). The patrons walked through the concession in a cafeteria
line in order to streamline the process. Lunches were offered early
for those who wanted to come well before the movie started. Allen
Patton, a teacher at Boulder High, was the manager, and Ned Collins
and staff operated the concession. (Daily Camera)
A photo of the Holiday Drive-In Theatre Marquee
was featured in the July 8, 1953 issue of the Daily Camera. The
newspaper noted: This large sign has been erected at the 28th street
entrance to the new Holiday Drive-In Theatre which will have its
grand opening Thursday night. The sign divides the double lane entrance
and exit lanes to the new theatre as do ornamental lights leading
to the flagstone trimmed ticket office west of 28th. (Ibid)
A few years after opening, the property was annexed
into Boulder, an action which was fought by Graves and Williams
for a variety of reasons. The main effects of the annexation were
higher taxes, license fees, and special assessments; interfere with
the driveway, private water well and sewer systems, and probably
the location of the screen, speaker stands and projection rooms.
The annexation would make business use of the property non-conforming
with the zoning ordinance, with the possibility that the business
use could ultimately be prohibited. (Daily Camera)
Graves and Williams sold their theaters in late
1966. At that time, the sale included the lease on the Flatirons
Theater building, the Holiday and Motorena Drive-In Theaters, the
Westwood Theater in Denver, and the lease on the Sunset Drive-In
Theater, in Fort Collins. The purchaser of their business and properties
was Calin Smith of Cheyenne, Wyoming. (Daily Camera)
In 1969, citing needs for more room and easier
access, the Holiday Drive-In was moved to the U.S. 36 and Lee Hill
Road site. (Daily Camera) On July 9, 1969, the Holiday Drive-In
Theater moved and reopened at the 28th and Lee Hill Road location.
(Daily Camera) The initial investment was $200,000, and an additional
$35,000 to $40,000 was spent to expand it to a two screen theater
the next year. (Daily Camera) In May 1970, there was a grand opening
for the twin-screens. Newspaper ads proclaimed: "IT'S TWINS!!
My other half is nearing completion and we'll both be open soon.
Holiday No. 1 and my twin sister, Holiday No. 2.
The two-day grand opening featured a display of
motorcycles to illustrate one of the opening feature movies, "Easy
Rider." That feature was followed by "Castle Cape."
The other screen featured three John Wayne movies, "Hell Fighters,"
"McClintock," and "War Wagon." Prices were $1.25
for adults, and children under 12 were free. Bruce Archer, the city
manager for the Highland Theaters Corp., unabashedly said the theater
was "the finest drive-in the U.S.A." (Daily Camera)
A photo in the Daily Camera showed the Holiday
Drive-In Theater Marquee being removed in preparation for its move
to the new location. The newspaper noted that it would be painted,
enlarged, and reinstalled at the new Holiday location. The screen
was refurbished and moved as well; it was painted with a highly
reflective paint containing fish scales.
When the Holiday Drive-In first opened in 1953,
admission for adults was $.65, "juniors" were $.10, and
children were free. The Holiday Drive-In Theater eventually succumbed
to the nationwide trends in 1988, when it was closed. The marquee
is all that remains, and the rest of the site is slated for an affordable
housing mixed-use project.
The Holiday Drive-In Marquee was built in 1953. It was moved to
its present location in 1969, and a second signboard was added in
1970. Drive-in signs in America tended to be of two main varieties:
a marquee sign of neon and blinking lights, or signage painted on
the back of the movie screen. The marquee type represented by the
Holiday Marquee usually had the following features: location on
a site which separated the entrance and exit lanes; signboards with
removable letters to advertise the current features; directional
arrows to indicate the entrance (in case a motorist missed it);
and neon and blinking lights to further draw attention to the sign.
The latter feature was a typical design element from the 1950s and
During this period, Americans were enthusiastically
anticipating the future. Space travel was experienced, and architects
envisioned what the "future world" would look like. They
began designing buildings with huge "caddy-like" tail-fins,
pronounced shapes, and boomerang angles. Signage associated with
this era, often called "googie" after a Sunset Strip coffee
shop of the 1960s, attempted to show that the business owners were
up to date and ready for the future.
Characteristics of "googie" signage
include the utilization of different types of shapes to make up
a sign. For example, sometimes an oval, rectangle, and boomerang
arrow made up a marquee. They were giant "look-at-me"
signs with diagonal lines, starbursts, and cutouts. The goal of
googie was eye-catching eccentricity which caused motorists to take
notice. It defined roadside architecture, and was popular with cheap
highway drive-ins. (Anaheim Bulletin) The style peaked between 1954
and 1964 and just as quickly fell out of favor. With stricter design
standards, most communities have forced the removal of googie signs.
The Holiday Drive-In Marquee anticipated this
movement with its red neon letters, green blinking arrow with curved
end, and juxtaposition of shapes at the top of the sign. Although
not the most avant-garde of googie signage in Boulder, it is one
of the last remaining. More significantly, it is the last architectural
feature of the drive-in movie industry in Boulder.
* Excerpt from Landmarks Preservation Advisory
Board memo, April 2002.