Drive-In starts its season
By Laura Sanders
Area residents know that summer must be around the corner.
Last weekend, one of the area's favorite warm-weather attractions, Hull's Drive-In Theatre, opened for its 57th season. The penguins of "Happy Feet" and the dinosaurs from "Night at the Museum" entertained audiences during the double feature.
Every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights through October, mostly family-friendly films will illuminate the 50-by-90-foot screen off Lee Highway north of Lexington.
"I've been scrubbing down the place and making sure everything's in proper working order after being closed for the winter season," Hull's Executive Director Frank Kulesza said.
The movies have changed over the years, but one big change nine years ago threatened to close the local landmark.
When long-time owner Sebert Hull died in 1998, the future of the drive-in was uncertain. Sebert's wife sold the business to W.D. Goad, who ran the drive-in for one season until rising costs forced the screen to remain dark during the summer of 1999.
Realizing its looming fate, more than 50 local residents and drive-in enthusiasts gathered to jump-start efforts to reopen Hull's. The meeting resulted in Hull's Angels, a not-for-profit group determined to keep the movies rolling.
The Angels managed to show one film in 1999. Eventually, they raised enough money to buy the business. Hull's became the only community-owned not-for-profit drive-in in the nation.
Today the organization comprises more than 500 members from 350 households. Each member donates at least $5 a year. Many also volunteer at the drive-in.
Hull's Marketing Director Christina Rivera said 10 percent of the budget depends on donations, half comes from ticket sales and 40 percent comes from concessions.
Even though the concession stand keeps Hull's running, prices don't push people away.
"Red Man chewing tobacco costs almost two bucks a pouch, but snowcones are just 50 cents, french fries, 60 [cents], hard-working civility, no charge at all," Elise Sheffield, a key Hull's Angels organizer, wrote in her essay A Night at the Drive-In.
Prices may change from year to year, but it's always the volunteers who keep the gates open. Hull's employs a part-time staff of 16, but more than 130 volunteers from the ranks of the Angels help make each season a success. The volunteers do everything from stuffing envelopes to selling concessions. A volunteer board of directors also oversees the operation.
A movie board selects films for each weekend, which always include a G or PG-rated show. All movies are either first-run or were released during the off-season. Rivera said that Hull's periodically shows PG-13 or R-rated films, but on Friday and Saturday nights the more family-oriented movie is shown first. That gives families the option to leave before the second show begins.
People old enough to remember drive-ins of 40 and 50 years ago will recognize the small gray speakers that hook to car windows. Those were repaired during the off season. But unlike decades ago, today movie fans people can also listen to the sound track on an FM radio channel.
Hull's moviegoers don't feel confined to their cars. They also lounge in lawn chairs or on blankets in front of the screen. Children run around on the lawn before the show begins, throwing Frisbees and footballs. Pets are also welcome, but they have to be on a leash.
This weekend's movies at Hull's are "We Are Marshall" (PG) and "The Departed" (R). Gates open at 6:30, and the first movie begins about 7:45.
Produced by Washington and Lee journalism students.
Lead supervisor: Prof. Claudette Artwick
Technical supervisor: Michael Todd