By ADAM SCHRADER
Published in The Denton Record Chronicle on Jan. 16, 2015
Harold Robinson opened the single-screen Town and Country, previously known as The Rancho Drive-In, in the summer of 1948. It was the first of its kind for Denton County, and the last.
The drive-in closed permanently in the early 1980s. Now, the only evidence left of the theater is the crumbling ruins of the snack bar in diamond-shaped foliage, reminiscent of the zombie film footage that used to play on its screen.
The glow of a drive-in movie screen will light up the night sky in Denton County once again later this year. Coyote Drive-In plans to open a five-screen theater on 35 acres in eastern Lewisville near U.S. Highway 121 Business, Sam Rayburn Tollway and Fish Hatchery Road.
On Jan. 5, the Lewisville City Council unanimously approved a special-use permit for a drive-in theater that would fit 1,500 cars on the southeast corner of Holford’s Prairie and Midway roads to view movies.
While there is no set date for the opening, officials hope to open by the end of the year.
It will be the closest drive-in theater to Lewisville residents since a two-screen drive-in theater on Business 121 closed in the early ’70s.
Coyote Drive-In opened its first drive-in theater in Fort Worth in 2013, Brady Barnett, vice president of development for Coyote Drive-In, said.
“We feel like Lewisville is a great community and a great location for our next opening,” he said.
“We’re very happy about the council’s approval of our request and excited to break ground on it and get it open in 2015.”
Here’s how the drive-in concept works.
Viewers park in designated spaces on one of the dirt mounds around the Selby screens.
Viewers watch movies, projected on outdoor screens that can be as large as 40 feet tall by 60 feet wide, through their car’s windshield or bring lawn chairs and sit in front of their vehicles.
The screen displays the FM radio frequency viewers need to tune their car radios to for the audio.
“There is a big nostalgia factor to it,” Barnett said.
“There is an entire generation of young families that never experienced the drive-in, so I think that is exciting and gets the attention.”
Drive-in theaters are relics of the past that are no longer included in city codes. There are not a whole lot of drive-ins around, and certainly not in city limits.
“In order for us to develop the way that we need to for our business model, we needed to request a special-use permit from the city,” Barnett said.
The Fort Worth location plays its double features on three screens. The Lewisville location will show its movies on five screens to provide more options for viewing its new release films.
It will also have an open-air pavilion, a kids’ play area and a 10,000-square-foot restaurant. Beer and wine will be available in the restaurant.
The company plans to keep admission prices the same across locations: $8 for adults, $6 for children ages 4 to 10 and free for kids 3 and younger.
The main difference between the Lewisville and Fort Worth locations will be that Lewisville will have an indoor, air-conditioned and heated space for the restaurant in addition to outdoor beer garden seating, said Glenn Solomon, a partner of Coyote Drive-In.
The drive-in likely will not be open in time for 2015 summer blockbusters, he said.
“It’s exciting and scary to be the first one to come back to Denton County. It’s much easier to do something when everyone is doing it and you know that it works,” Solomon said. “Now that we have done one, we know there is a need for this sector of the business.”
Lewisville Deputy Mayor Pro Tem R. Neil Ferguson has worked in retail site analysis for years. He said he was impressed the company sought out Lewsiville, and he couldn’t think of a better use for the space.
“They found us. We didn’t find them,” Ferguson said. “You don’t really go lasso a business and try to drag them to your city.”
The location is perfect for a drive-in, he said.
The land is set back from the major roadways, which creates a noise buffer. It also may help more businesses pop up in that area. It’s just a little ways from the landfill, and the nearest neighbors are an auto auction business and old junk yards that were permitted decades ago, he said.
“There hasn’t been anything happening in that direction, period,” Ferguson said. “This may incentivize other restaurants that may not have been on anyone’s radar.”
There have been rumblings of the possibility of using the pavilion and parking areas for outdoor events like concerts, he said.
“Since the primary intended use is at night, I would think that the owners would want to look at opportunities for daytime use,” he said.
ADAM SCHRADER can be reached at 214-773-8188 and via Twitter at @schrader_adam.