The North Cedar, the last drive-in theater in Spokane closed in 1993. At one point, Spokane was home to seven drive-ins-more than any other city in Washington State (Seattle can boast only having had two). Now, movie watchers itching to recreate the drive-in movie experience of their youth must travel north of Spokane to the Auto Vue Drive-In in Colville, WA-one of the last remaining drive-ins in the state.
Auto Vue first opened in 1953 and is still run by the same family. Steve Wisner, owner of the Auto Vue has been fixing movie speakers since he can remember. While many drive-ins around the country were shutting their doors after the onslaught of the home video, Wisner decided to move away from the standard drive-in format of showing only second runs.
“We started to do first runs and opened it only on the weekend. When I took over in ’94, I started opening it six days a week and business went up about 35 percent. It was profitable so we kept it that way,” says Wisner.
The flat dry field at the Auto Vue can hold up to 220 cars, and in true drive-in style, trucks, are backed in, and outfitted with lawn furniture in their truckbeds during showings. While the surrounding mountains of the Colville National Forest are stunning, much past dusk, you will not be able to notice. Missing from the drive-in are the post-mounted speakers seen in earlier drive-in eras. The Auto Vue now feeds its sound through your car’s AM or FM radio. The speakers were removed in 1982.
Admission is $6 per adult, $2 for children, 11 and under, and on Wednesdays, $10 can get your entire carload in. While there is no play equipment to keep younger children occupied, groups of children roam freely among the field of cars, going to and from the “Spanish-Deco” style concession building and restrooms. Traditional movie fare with the addition of pizza can be purchased on-site.
The Auto Vue’s season runs from April to the first of September and is open Friday through Wednesday. Movies change weekly, so call ahead to find out what is playing. Double features are the norm with the first movie starting at dusk-in mid-June this can mean close to 9 PM, so don’t expect to make it out any earlier than 1 AM if you plan to stay for both movies.
If you decide to stay until it really is too late to drive back to Spokane, Colville and the neighboring Kettle Falls area offer a variety of affordable accommodations. If you are looking for a quick retreat, your best bet is to stay in Colville at either the Colville Comfort Inn or Benny’s Colville Inn on Main Street.
If you decide to stay a little longer, there are numerous B&Bs and cabins available for rent that can allow for outdoor exploration of the Colville and Columbia River Valleys. Rich Landers, in his 100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest, mentions four fantastic hikes just outside of Kettle Falls and many more near Ione. The city of Colville, itself, boasts numerous excursions as well, from the friendly regulars at The Logger Tavern to paintings by Leno Prestini at the Keller Heritage Center Museum. Colville also has numerous festivals planned this summer, so visit their website if you would like to combine a nostalgic night at the drive-in with mid-day fun.
The Auto Vue Drive-In is located at 444 Auto View Road, Colville, WA, just past downtown Colville, follow U.S. Hwy 395 and take a left on Auto View Road. Call (509) 684-2863 for movie information.
For lodging in Colville:
Benny’s Colville Inn: (800) 680-2517 or http://www.colvilleinn.com.
Colville Comfort Inn: (800) 228-5150 or http://choicehotels.com/hotel/wa717
For lodging just outside of Colville:
Beaver Lodge & Resort: (509) 684-5657Blue Moose Cabin Rentals: (509) 738-6950 or http://www.bluemoosecabins.com.
The Whitetail Inn: (509) 684-8856.
WHEN YOU GO:
Colville is located at the junction of U.S. Highway 395 (north-south), which runs completely from Mexico to Canada through the center of Colville, forming the town’s main street, and State Highway 20 (east-west), which runs from the Idaho-Washington border to the Pacific coast and Washington’s San Juan Islands.
For a scenic drive along the Pend Oreille River valley head north from Spokane along Hwy 2. Just before Newport, WA look for signs to Ione and Metaline Falls take a left onto WA-211. Go about 15 miles. Turn left onto WA-20 and go 36 miles to Colville.
For a quick side trip check out the Manresa Grotto, a natural cave located on the Kalispel Indian Reservation just outside of Usk, WA.
Manresa Grotto is a cave that is located within the Tiger Formation-one of the most unusual geologic structures in Washington. The Manresa Grotto cave lies above the Newport fault. In the mid-1800s, Father DeSmet, a Catholic Priest, named the cave “The New Manresa” and had an altar built of stone that is still there today, along with flat rocks that served as pews.
To reach the Manresa Grotto, drive north on Highway 2, just after the WA-20 turn-off to Ione, you will reach Usk, WA, turn right onto Kings Lake Road and cross the Pend Oreille River onto the Kalispel Indian Reservation. Take a left onto Le Clerc Creek Road and drive for about 15 minutes and you will see Manresa Grotto on the right side of the road.