Indiana drive-in theater reopening after 30 years

TERRE HAUTE (AP) — Nobody has watched a movie at the old North Drive-In site since it closed on Labor Day 1988.

That was the last time a Vigo County drive-in theater — a U.S. craze in 1950s, ’60s and beyond — stayed open for business.

But KJB Theaters president Brent Barnhart plans to change that Sept. 22 when his new Moon Lite Drive-In Theater — on the former North Drive-In property — will celebrate its grand opening.

Scheduled are a “Cruise in the Moonlite” car show from noon to 5 p.m. and a free double-feature showing of “Grease” and “American Graffiti” at sunset.

“I was looking for a more unique name — something that stands out and is a little bit different,” recalled Barnhart, a Terre Haute resident who started leasing the 12-acre Lafayette Street site from Kessco Water LLC in January 2018.

“It was actually my 12-year-old son (Kyle) who said, ‘You already own the Starlite. Call this one the Moon Lite.'”

KJB Theaters reopened the Starlite Drive-In in Bloomington in May 2017. KJB’s three indoor theaters are in Linton, Washington and Paris, Illinois.

Barnhart previously co-owned The Meadows Theater in Terre Haute from 2000 until it closed in 2014.

Barnhart and Earl C. Rodgers & Associates crews started work on the Moon Lite property in June. That work has included the re-installation of parking ramps so cars will be slightly elevated and viewers can easily see the elevated, 40-foot-tall, 80-foot-wide screen.

“We had to install those (and) install the driving lanes,” he said, estimating that about $400,000 has been spent on the project so far.

“Of course, we installed the privacy fence. And of course, a brand-new concession stand, brand-new restrooms, brand-new projection room. We installed a new box office. With the screen, we power-washed it and repainted it.”

Barnhart, 40, said his goal is to add some variety to North Terre Haute entertainment.

“I was born and raised in North Terre Haute,” he said. “I graduated from North (Vigo) High School in 1996. I came to this drive-in as a child. I have fond memories of coming here. I remember seeing ‘Airplane!’ here.”

Barnhart wants to recreate the same atmosphere in 2018, but with the benefits of modern technology. The new drive-in will allow at least 400 vehicles.

“The atmosphere at a drive-in is different than what you get at an indoor movie theater,” he said.

“At a drive-in, you arrive a couple hours before showtime. You set up chairs, blankets, anything you want. Sometimes people bring a football or a Frisbee to toss around. It’s kind of a park atmosphere with a movie playing on a giant screen.

“The movies will be all digital projection. We’ll broadcast digital sound through your FM car stereos or any portable radio that you’d like to bring with you. The days of the poles and the speakers on the windows are pretty much over.”

On normal nights, admission price will be $8 per person for 13 and older, $4 for ages 6-12 and free for 5 and under.

“You get two movies for that price,” Barnhart pointed out, adding that most of Moon Lite’s showings will be first-run flicks.

“There will be some nights when we do car-load pricing and other discounts … and we do have plans to do some retro nights, probably during the summer of next year.”

Movie nights will be Fridays and Saturdays during the fall, but Barnhart hopes to expand to seven nights a week by next summer.