Families traveling on summer vacation have their pick of motels. So complimentary breakfasts, Jacuzzi tubs and chocolate candy on pillows are often dangled to lure in business. A motel in the Southern Colorado farming town of Monte Vista has found a true hit: rooms with a view.
On a crisp evening near the foot of the San Juan Mountains, parents, kids and pets are piled in cars in front of a huge drive-in movie screen to watch tonight's main attraction. A marbled moon hangs low to the right of the screen. Stars flicker in the sky and on the screen as Harry Potter begins to work his wizardry.
Bill Goers of Denver and his brother Steve have the best seats in the house. They're sipping beer and watching from their hotel room. The Movie Manor Motor Inn's rooms form a half-circle around the back of the drive-in. "Come in your room and you open up this big picture window and, lo and behold, you're at the drive-in. Just like the olden days, like you're sitting in your car. You know what would be really nice? If they put car seats right here," says Bill.
The Goers used to see films from the other side of the window. They grew up in nearby Del Norte, but did plenty of growing up here at the drive-in. This is where Steve enjoyed his first kiss. Bill saw his first film a Lucille Ball comedy and eventually graduated to smuggling in beer kegs in a Camaro. "I always said, 'Who cares what's on the movie; we're at the drive in!' And I think tonight we're saying, 'Who cares what's on the movie, we're watching from the hotel room!'"
"Now that we're older and have enough money to pay for a room," says Steve.
And get tossed out by the drive-in's sprightly 83-year-old owner, George Kelloff. As a child, he pumped the player piano for the silent movies shown at his mother's theatre. In 1954, Mr. Kelloff opened his own drive-in and, like many owners, lived in a home on the grounds of the theater. One night, he and his wife had to sleep on the living room sofa bed. "So we got in bed that night and I looked up there and I said, 'My God, there's the screen, I'm going to have to put up a speaker in here.' And I told her 'I'm going to build a motel like this one of these days.' 'Course she said I was nuts," he says.
But he saved money and borrowed some to build the first 14 units. The Movie Manor Motor Inn opened in the summer of '64 to little success. But word-of-mouth helped promote the world's only known motel-slash-drive-in movie theatre, and it not only survived, but thrived, especially during the summer when the theatre is open.
While other drive-ins have folded, George Jr., who now runs the business, credits their longevity to owning the land outright and employing mostly family. But, he admits, novelty helps. "We get people that call our hotel on Monday and Tuesday out of Denver, Colorado Springs, Albuquerque, and they ask, 'What's the movie?' And you tell them, 'It's Shreck 2' and they book," he says.
"It's pretty sweet. It's, like, awesome," says 17-year-old Chase Davis. His family stays at the Movie Manor Motor Inn every summer en route to their vacation home in Crested Butte Colorado. Like many return visitors, Chase and some buddies opted to drive their mud-splattered truck into the theatre to get the full drive-in experience. "We're from Dallas where we have mega-movie theatres where they have, like, all the fashion light and all that junk. And you get out here and it's nice and peaceful and you can see the stars and the moon and just, it's simple."
The rooms are frequently filled with tourists, locals seeking a weekend getaway and even the occasional foreign guest. George Kelloff, Jr. says the only people who don't enjoy the movies are the housekeepers. "Once the drive-in opens, they want to kill me. 'Gee, the popcorn is all over the room.' I say, 'Well, I'm sorry.'" It's likely that errant kernels will keep popping up in Movie Manor Motor Inn beds for years to come. The third generation of Kelloffs is already hard at work and preparing to step into the spotlight.