drive-in delights

 

March 29, 2021

The North Okanagan’s recent mild weather has been accompanied by a secondary treat: it has allowed the Starlight Drive-In near Enderby to open early, with the first showing on March 19.

The Starlight Drive-In is the sole surviving permanent open-air theatre in the Okanagan. But before there was The Starlight, there was The Skyway.

the skyway

The Skyway Drive-In, located at 2204 48 Avenue in Vernon, was operated by Odeon Theatres of Canada (now known as Cineplex Inc.) and opened on May 1, 1950.

The first showing was a grand affair, advertised in The Vernon News with a full two-page spread. The feature presentation was the 1950 comedy A Woman of Distinction, which premiered at 8 pm.

The cost for an adult ticket was 55 cents and a well-stocked concession stand served french fries, soft drinks, hot dogs, and of course, popcorn.

cinema stowaways

It was an instant success and many Vernonites have fond memories of this former landmark.

On the Facebook Page “Vintage Vernon,” a photo shared by the museum of the theatre provoked an outpouring of reminiscences. 

Some commenters remember hiding themselves in the trunks of vehicles to sneak in for free (although at least one of the theatre’s managers, Bob Scott, was quite aware of this little trick and apparently didn’t mind—the stowaways spent good money at the concession).

Aerial view of the Skyway drive-in theatre just outside Vernon, circa 1975

 

 

Photo courtesy of Rhiannan Johnson via Vintage Vernon Facebook  page

 

 

A Simpler Time

Many recalled the movies they watched on the big screen: E.T., Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Back to the Future and the Odessa File were some of the ones shown. For others, the photo provoked a yearning for childhood and a “simpler” time.

The theatre grounds boasted swing sets and other playground equipment, which kept children occupied during pre-shows and intermissions. Teenagers found the drive-in to be a good hangout (and romance) spot. Some older folks who lived nearby could watch the showings from the comfort of their own homes, while parents enjoyed a night-out as their pajama-clad children slept through the second feature in the back seat.

end of an era

The theatre grounds boasted swing sets and other playground equipment, which kept children occupied during pre-shows and intermissions. Teenagers found the drive-in to be a good hangout (and romance) spot. Some older folks who lived nearby could watch the showings from the comfort of their own homes, while parents enjoyed a night-out as their pajama-clad children slept through the second feature in the back seat.

Sadly, these summer night traditions came to an end in 1991, when the theatre was demolished and replaced with the Skyway Village housing development. Now, the Chartwell Carrington Place Retirement Residence stands where the Skyway Drive-In once did. Although the demolition of the Skyway Drive-In was a loss for the City of Vernon, the tradition of open-air movie-watching lives on with the Skylight.

Gwyn Evans

Golden age of small town cinema

 

May, 2020

“Modern In Every Detail Building Brings Vernon To Front In Theatre Activity.”

These were the headlines in the Vernon News on November 3rd of 1938. The previous year J. Fitzgibbons, Canadian Director of Theatres, had made a promise to the citizens of Vernon in the special “Marching Onward” edition of the Vernon News, stating that Vernon would soon have the most modern and complete theatre in British Columbia. On Monday, November 7th, 1938 this pledge became reality when the Famous Players Canadian Corporation opened the new, state of the art, Capitol Theatre on Barnard Avenue

The theatre site at the east end of Barnard Avenue had been settled on after negotiations with the National Cafe Holding Company, who agreed to erect the structure on the site previously occupied by the National Ballroom, and then lease it, under a long term arrangement, to Famous Players.

 

 

Capitol Theatre Box Office with advert for Don’t Give up the Ship with Jerry Lewis, 1950

 

Vernon architect Richard Curtis was engaged to design and supervise the construction of the building. The general contract was awarded to David Howrie Ltd., and the electrical work was given to Okanagan Electric and J.M. Edgar. The Vernon Hardware Company was engaged to install the modern heating and ventilation system, cable of handing one million cubic feet of air per hour.

A formal opening was held at 6:45 p.m., Monday November 7th, with the Hon. Grote Starling, Member of Parliament for Yale, in attendance, along with Mayor Harry Bowman, British Columbia manager for Famous Players, Frank Gow, and new local manager, Walter Bennett. The curtain then rose for the premier feature film “The Valley of the Giants,” a “four bell” picture in technicolour selected to showcase the up-to-date colour reproduction equipment.

The following enthusiastic description of the new theatre appeared in the Vernon News.

“Surmounted by a 50-foot tower and enhanced by a wide marquee running the full length of the National Block, the new building offers an imposing, modern appearance. From Barnard Avenue the play-goer enters an arcade, fifty feet long and beautifully decorated in rose and silver, and goes on into a spacious oval foyer which is handsomely furnished and which is flanked by rest-rooms, and the manager’s office. Here too is noticed an innovation – a check room with a young lady in attendance. As the main auditorium is entered the Vernon theatre-goer will notice another change, that of boy ushers smartly uniformed and specially trained.”

“The auditorium is the last word in theatre accommodation and decoration. Having a floor space two and a quarter times the old Empress Theatre, it will seat approximately 800 persons in the very latest type of fully upholstered chairs set wide apart with ample leg room. The heavily carpeted aisles which hayed concealed lighting, are wide and the floor has sufficient slope to assure perfect vision from every seat. Here too, the decoration has been carried out in shades of rose, lavender, and silver for the walls, while the ceiling is plain, having been treated with acoustic plaster to abolish any chance of echo and to assure a good sound reproduction.”

The cost of construction was approximately $60,000, and the Capitol Theatre was rated as one of the finest theatres in Western Canada. Since that time, many changes have taken place, including the loss of the imposing 50-foot tower and the change of name to the Towne Theatre. However, the theatre still plays a major role in the entertainment scene, bringing in a wide and varied range of movie fare to satisfy Vernon film buffs.

To learn more about some of Vernon’s earliest businesses, visit http://www.okcreateonline.com/the-history-of-local-businesses.html.

Barbara Bell