An aerial view of the Sunset Drive-In in Vernal, Utah.
4 July 1997
Courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

Sunset Drive-In

1620 West Highway 40
Vernal, Utah, 84078
(1950 - 2013)
Closed

Marvin Caroll, a U. S. Army veteran, opened the Starlite Drive-Inn Theatre on On 21 April 1950.  The theater could accommodate 300 cars, with the capacity to expand to 500. The screen was large enough to support as many as 700. Individual speakers, with tone controls, were provided for each vehicle. At the time, the Starlite was the only drive-in within 150 miles of Vernal.[1]  When the Starlite Theater ended its first season in September 1950, the management was “well pleased with the popularity of the drive-in theater throughout the summer.”[2]

In March 1951, United Intermountain Theatres annexed the Starlite Drive-In Theatre, along with the Vogue Theatre.  At the time, the theater chain operated theaters from Price in the south to Glendive, Montana in the north.[3]

By April 1957, the Starlite Drive-In was operated by Deward and Alson Shiner.[4]  The Shiner Theaters chain also included the Main Theatre, Vernal Theatre, and Vogue Theatre.[5 & 6]

Just before midnight on 17 April 1957, a short circuit started a fire that destroyed the screen of the Starlite Drive-In Theatre.  Earlier in the evening, technical difficulties forced the theater to discontinue the movie and refund the patrons' admission.  Sixteen firemen responded to a call at 11:45 PM.  Fanned by high winds, flames reached 100 feet into the air.  A fire engine and two water trucks pumped 2,500 gallons of water onto the 60-foot screen and surrounding grass.  The screen toppled over about 2:30 AM.   Damages were estimated at $1,200.[4]

Work began on 14 May 1957 to rebuild the drive-in and expand its capacity to 400 cars.  “Attractive landscaping” was added around the car area and a building constructed to house the new projection and sound equipment.  An additional 100 speakers were installed, along with new wiring which ensured “effect sound reproduction.”  A rooftop garden with speakers was created on the new projection building, so moviegoers could “enjoy refreshments and watch the movie at the same time.”[5]

Installation of a $10,000 galvanized steel movie screen was completed on 21 June 1957.  At 60 feet high and 100 feet wide, the 21-ton screen was equipped to handle both “both wide-screen and Cinemascope projections.”  After being assembled, the screen was propped up while a workman lay on his back underneath and sprayed it white.  The legs of the screen were “welded onto a steel and concrete base ten feet deep, with 12 feet wide abutments underground.”  Two cranes hoisted the screen into place, with pulling assistance by two caterpillars.[5]

A grand opening for the Sunset Drive-In Theatre was held on 16 August 1957.  Phillip Brewer and Elaine Humphreys won a contest to rename the “all-new” theater.[5 & 6]

The old pole speakers were removed "at the end of the last season of the last century" and replaced with FM radio.[7]

On Friday night, 5 July 2013, a grease fire broke out from deep-fat fryers in the concessions building of the Sunset Drive-In.  An employee tried unsuccessfully to put out the fires using an extinguisher.  Power outages earlier in the day may have affected the equipment, leading to the fire.  Fire crews received the call just before midnight and arrived to find flames coming out of the windows and doors.  Uintah Fire District Chief Jeremey Raymond described the 50-foot square building as “completely destroyed” and “a total loss.”  A separate building with bathrooms and projection equipment was damaged but not destroyed.[8]

The Sunset did not reopen after the fire.  A message on the drive-in's attraction board read, "Thanks for 58 years of fun times and good memories."[9]


1. “Outside Theater Starts Show Tomorrow Night”, Vernal Express, 20 April 1950, page 9
2.
“Starlite Theater Closes For Winter”, Vernal Express"
, 21 September 1950, page 4
3.
“Vogue, Starlite Drive-In Annexed by Theatre Circuit”, Vernal Express, 29 March 1951, Page 1
4.
“Midnight Blaze Destroys Drive-In Theatre Screen”, Vernal Express, 18 April 1957, Page 1
5.
“21-ton, 60-foot Drive-In Movie Screen Friday Proves Ticklish Task to Erect”, Vernal Express, 27 June 1957, Page 1
6.
“Sunset Drive-In Will Open Friday; Vogue Dressed Up”, Vernal Express, 15 August 1957, Page 1
7. "Drive-ins of Utah", driveinmovie.com, December 2009
8. 
"Grease fire breaks out at Vernal drive-in movie theater", Deseret News, 06 July 2013
9. Exterior Photos