Chief Drive-In

2868 North Avenue,
Grand Junction, CO 81501

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Commonwealth Theaters Corp., United Artists Theater Circuit Inc., Westland Theaters Inc.

Nearby Theaters

Concession Stand/Booth (1989)

The Chief Drive-In opened on March 21, 1952 with Gary Cooper in “Distant Drums”. It ran every year until its closure on September 4, 1989 with “Star Trek V” & “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. It was Grand Junction’s second drive-in, operated the most seasons and was the last to close forever.

It was built by Westland Theatres (of Colorado Springs) to complement their other hard-top offerings in Grand Junction. It was located on an 8.3 acre parcel on the north side of street with access directly off North Avenue. The entrance and exit lanes were separated by a grassed north-south median directly behind the sign. The neon and fluorescently illuminated sign was fashioned in the shape of an Indian head with an integral marquee behind the Chief’s head. The screen was at the far north end of the field and faced south. The concession stand and booth were located in a two story cinder block building in the middle of the field. The concession stand and restrooms were on the ground floor with the booth on the second floor. Initially there was a playground at the front of the field near the screen. It was moved to behind the concession stand but then later removed altogether. The lot was gravelled with graded ramps.

Projection was initially via two Simplex XL projectors illuminated by Peerless Magnarc carbon arc lamp houses driven by a large Hertner TransVerter. Sound was delivered by Simplex sound heads via Simplex tube amplifiers. The field was wired with Simplex poles, domes and speakers. In 1979 the system was automated. The right projector was removed and in its place a Drive-In Theatre Mfg. platter system was installed. Illumination was updated to a Xetron lamp house. The sound head was updated to a solar cell system, replacing the old tube photocell pickup. Over time most of the original Simplex speakers were replaced with cast aluminum Reed boxes and the ramp light domes replaced with Reed caps and translucent white, green or red rings (depending upon their location on the field).

The Chief Drive-In closed with little fanfare. It was merely shuttered after the 1989 season and not started back up. This was due to the very expensive improvements necessary to update the property. The primary problem was the field wiring was shot. The 1952 vintage rubber covered wire was shorting out and the sound quality at the speakers was terrible especially if it rained. Updating to an AM radio transmitter was considered on a trial basis but this too proved impossible as the system still needed most of field wiring to be serviceable. Upon that assessment UA threw in the towel on re-opening the theatre. They opted to use the booth and concession stand for storage for the next few years while they mulled their options. In 1991 United Artist Theatres opted to not renew their lease of the property from Arcadia Investments of Colorado Springs (owned by L.J. Sizemore and the successor to Westland’s property division). Since UA owned the equipment, they stripped it when the lease terminated thus effectively killing the property as a theatre.

In the mid-1990’s Arcadia demolished the building and other improvements on the property to save on taxes and make it more marketable as vacant land. Like the location of most drive-in theatres, the area had grown up around it and the property was much more valuable as developable vacant commercial land than as a theatre. The parcel was later purchased by Colorado West health services for their campus.

Contributed by Nick Genova

Recent comments (view all 6 comments)

Drive-In 54
Drive-In 54 on September 9, 2014 at 5:13 pm

There was Rocket DI also. I have some information on that one also. It is on my to do list to get it added,

MichaelKilgore on December 6, 2019 at 1:40 pm

Two years in the making? Boxoffice, April 15, 1950: “GRAND JUNCTION, COLO. – T. B. Noble jr., general manager of the Westland Theatre Corp, says his firm will build a new drive-in on North avenue here. It will accommodate 600 cars.”

MichaelKilgore on March 12, 2020 at 1:42 pm

The Chief’s final night was Labor Day, Sept. 4, 1989, showing “Star Trek V” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” The next day, its section of the United Artists theater ad said simply “Closed.”

MichaelKilgore on July 24, 2020 at 8:53 am

I can’t find any evidence that the Chief showed movies at any time before its Grand Opening on March 21, 1952. rivest266 has the ad from that day’s Daily Sentinel, and here’s what it looked like the day before:

Chief Drive-In pre-Grand OpeningChief Drive-In pre-Grand Opening Thu, Mar 20, 1952 – 2 · The Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction, Colorado) ·

Note that the opening program was “Distant Drums” with Gary Cooper, the short “Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd in Sweden,” and a Cartoon Carnival.

Nick on May 29, 2021 at 4:58 am

To clarify, there was some form of a “soft opening” on March 20, 1952. I learned this from personal conversations I had in the early 1980s with the original projectionist and other staff. Officially, yes, the Grand Gala Opening was on Friday the 21st. The Thursday “opening” was a trial run to make sure everything was working and ready. Whether it was a paying even, I have no idea and my original source has long since passed away.

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