Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Discovering a drive-in movie theatre in Luverne & a nation-wide effort to save these icons August 15, 2013

A FEW WEEKS AGO, while traveling specifically to Luverne in the southwestern corner of Minnesota to tour the Brandenburg Gallery and Blue Mounds State Park, I discovered a vanishing icon of American culture.

That would be a drive-in movie theatre on the south edge of town just off Interstate 90.

Verne Drive-in entry sign

The Verne Drive-In Theater, built in the 1950s, is one of only a few drive-ins remaining in Minnesota. Others include the Long Drive-In in Long Prairie, the Starlite 5 Drive-In Theatre in Litchfield, the Vali-Hi Drive-In in Lake Elmo and Sky-Vu Drive In in Warren. I think I’ve covered them all.

Nearly a year ago, the Cottage View Drive-In in Cottage Grove, in a controversial move, was closed and the land sold for construction of a Walmart store. (Click here to see Minnesota Public Radio photos of a September 2012 event celebrating the Cottage View’s 46-year history.)

Although I didn’t see a show at the Verne Drive-In, my husband and I drove through the vacant theatre parking lot on a Saturday morning just to check out the place and reminisce. We went to a few outdoor movies together when our community of Faribault still had a drive-in theatre. We also each attended drive-in movies separately while growing up. Me in Redwood Falls and he once in the Little Falls area and then near Brainerd.

Verne Drive-in, screen w filmstrip

I expect most of you hold on to some drive-in movie memories whether its cramming into the trunk of a car, making out with a long forgotten boyfriend or girlfriend, waiting in line for a concession stand snack or burger, tuning in to a movie via those little boxes stationed throughout the gravel parking lot, piling the kids into the car in their jammies for a night out under the stars…

At the Verne Drive-In a young couple, who went on their first date at the drive-in four years ago, recently became engaged there.

Drive-in theatres, most assuredly, are a part of our history, our culture, our growing up years and our personal memories.

Verne Drive-In exit sign film strip

Once commonplace in communities across the country, drive-ins are vanishing with only 368 remaining in the U.S., according to Project Drive-In established by Honda Motor Company. Honda, via an online and texting voting process, is giving away digital movie projectors to five drive-in theatres. The goal is simple: to save as many drive-ins as possible.

The financial challenge for drive-ins today lies in the need to switch to digital projection by the end of 2013, an upgrade which costs an estimated $80,000.

For theatres like the one in Luverne, winning a free digital projector through the Project Drive-In giveaway would be huge. You can vote online and/or via texting for these two Minnesota drive-ins daily for the next 25 days: the Verne Drive-In or the Long Drive-In. Click here for more information.

Project Drive-In also includes opportunities to donate monies toward saving our nation’s drive-ins and to pledge to go to a drive-in movie theatre. Win. Win.

WHAT MEMORIES DO YOU have of drive-in movie theatres? Let’s hear.

ยฉ Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “Discovering a drive-in movie theatre in Luverne & a nation-wide effort to save these icons”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    We used to go to drive in’s when we were growing up—of course we always loaded up with homemade popcorn and snacks before we went—no buying of those concessions for us. ๐Ÿ™‚ Especially when we had home grown Grandma Bonnie popcorn. Chris and I went to several when we were dating and we took the kids once that I remember to one in NC when they were little. Our youngest son just recently posted something on Twitter about wanting to own one….I think there is one close to him for sale in NC. So at least “he” still thinks they are a neat thing. Great memories, right????

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I don’t recall purchasing concession stand food either. And I know that I didn’t go to the drive-in all that much growing up. A few times as a teen and young adult, though, also one near Mankato that I had forgotten about.

      Thanks for sharing your memories. And about that North Carolina drive-in your son wants to buy, hmmmm, you could work the concession stand.

  2. treadlemusic Says:

    We used to take the kids/boys to the one in Cottage Grove and we were very disappointed to see it gone (especially to a Wally World store!!!!!). When we moved here (39 yrs. ago) there was a drive-in theater on the corner of Hwy 14 and Marion Rd in Rochester (catty-corner from the Cub Foods). Not sure when that came down. Great memories………

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Yes, it seems every town of some size had a drive-in movie theatre at one time. Am I remembering that you have quite some story to share about a drive-in, but not publicly? Or am I thinking of someone else?

      • treadlemusic Says:

        It may be someone else. Our only story occurred when the boys were young and we took them to see the movie about “Herbie” the yellow VW (@ the Cottage Grove drive-in) AND we were driving a yellow VW bug!!!!!! The smaller kids in all the other cars were driving everyone crazy with their excited squeals!!!!! A fond memory for sure!!!!

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        That’s a great memory. I can only imagine the excited kids. Did you sign autographs or allow poses for photos?

        Hmmmm, I must be thinking of someone else and a memory because I thought it involved DH and you.

      • treadlemusic Says:

        No autographs…..the kids were really young and the youngest (around 1 y.o) managed to be sleeping through most of the commotion!!). LOL!

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        A sleeping one-year-old at a drive-in movie sounds ideal. Otherwise I can only imagine how little you would have seen of the movie.

      • treadlemusic Says:

        Precisely, and his 3 y.o. brother was quite appreciative, too, needless to say!!!! LOL

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:


  3. Rachel Eggleston Says:

    I remember our drive-in, Breezy Point Drive In, fondly from high school days back in Nebraska. My Lutheran Church used it for our Easter Sunrise Service for several years as well. Made it cool to go to church in your jammies on Easter morning.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      What a unique idea, to have Easter sunrise service at the drive-in. Is the Breezy Point Drive-In still open? Thanks for sharing your memories, Rachel.

  4. Jackie Says:

    We had 2 in Rochester, ah yes the memories, all those you mentioned and more. Wish my kids could have experianced it with us when they were little. Mom and dad used to pop up a big bag of popcorn and we’d devour it while watching the show. Rick and I had many a date while in high school at the drive in, good memories there as well. Thanks for sharing Audrey, I miss the “back in the day” things ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Sounds like you have many great memories. Perhaps you and Rick should road trip to the Verne Drive-In in Luverne, for old times sake. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Jackie Says:

        We might just have to do that ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        And I am going to show you many more reasons to visit Luverne in upcoming posts. It’s definitely worth a road trip. However, I do believe the drive-in closes at the end of September, or some autumn date like that.

  5. hotlyspiced Says:

    I grew up in NZ where there weren’t any drive-ins but used to see them when watching American films and always wanted to have that experience. Then we moved to Oz and there were drive-ins but by the time I got my driver’s licence, most of them had been shut-down. It’s such a shame as they were a wonderful night out for families and ill-intentioned teens xx

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I am laughing at “ill-intentioned” teens. My middle brother “blew up” a car engine at the drive-in. I can’t recall how he did this, but showing off for a girl.

  6. Deanna Auge Says:

    Does anyone know the name of the drive-in theatre at Faribault, MN. It possibly closed in 1986.

    • Deanna, I cannot remember the name of the drive-in theatre in Faribault, although I went to a few movies there. And, yes, it’s been closed for a long time.

      Readers, can any of you tell Deanna the name of Faribault’s outdoor movie theatre?

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