The Holiday Drive-In Theatre - Boulder, Colorado
Posted by: Groundspeak Regular Member Big B Bob
N 40° 03.696 W 105° 16.608
13T E 476393 N 4434630
Behind the refurbished marquee stands a community of condos where once families parked their cars to watch movies.
Waymark Code: WM68Z0
Location: Colorado, United States
Date Posted: 04/25/2009
Published By:Groundspeak Premium Member SearchN
Views: 13

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 years earlier.

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 '60s.

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.

Current condition: Very little remains (signs, speaker posts, car ramps, screen structure, etc.)

Web Page: [Web Link]


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