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A quirky motel/drive-in movie combo

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The Movie Manor motel with adjacent Star Drive-In, Monte Vista, Colorado. (Andy Stiny/For The Journal)

MONTE VISTA, COLORADO – It’s a landmark in the wide open pasture lands of the San Luis Valley, surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

The large, outdoor movie screens next to the two-story motel can be seen for several miles before the two-lane blacktop delivers you to Movie Manor.

Sure, it’s your basic motel alongside a highway, but we’ll wager it’s not like any motel you have ever stayed in.

I had heard about the Manor for years, but only recently found the chance to drive the 2½ hours from Santa Fe to the iconic venue in Monte Vista.

My friend, PD Morris, of Santa Fe, was happy for a quick trip to a fairly isolated location with minimal interaction with others – the near perfect social distancing getaway from cabin fever.

The motel, run by General Manager Roy Patel, his wife, Sejal, and older daughter, features two large screens in the Star Drive-In, with the curved building of the motel bordering the drive-in’s western edge.

Guests have the option of enjoying the movie from the comfort of their rooms via large picture windows with rooms wired for the movie sound or they can watch from their vehicles along with other drive-in movie goers.

“It is a unique property,” said Roy Patel in a phone interview. “In the entire world, there is only one property” like the Manor, he said.

The trip was Morris’ first visit there. The Patels “greet you with masked, but sincere, friendliness,” said Morris. They and the family are the staff. “They do it all – run and clean the motel, keep the movies going and handle the concession stand that even serves up sizzling burgers and fries,” she said.

We watched “Dolittle,” also known as “The Voyage of Doctor Dolittle,” a 2020, fantasy-comedy-adventure remake of the earlier movies, from the comfort of our room.

PD Morris of Santa Fe enjoys the drive-in movie from the comfort of her room. (Andy Stiny/For the Journal)

“The rooms are clean and neat, and it felt like a pleasant camping trip on a giant sofa with a movie and a glass of vino with my burger,” said Morris.

We had the choice of “Dolittle” on one screen or “The High Note” on the other and, being animal lovers, we opted for “Dolittle,” which was widely panned by critics.

The movie “will delight small children and drive adults mad,” according to theverge.com website, which called Robert Downey Jr.’s attempt at a Welsh accent “bizarre.” But the movies are beside the point; it’s the Movie Manor experience that counts.

Each room is labeled with a movie star’s name. We had the Mel Gibson room and I bet he stayed here once. In front of the office, the names of movie stars are signed into the cement, Ã la Grauman’s Chinese Theatre with its Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Morris described the motel lobby with its “two-story picture windows that face a landscape of cattle and agricultural fields, and a rugged rocky mountain backdrop.”

On well-sprinkled, groomed green grass bordering the parking lot, we enjoyed a game of badminton after packing our portable set. The motel even has a putting green for the golfer in the family.

The Patels have operated the complex for almost 18 months, but the motel/drive-in has been there for more than 50 years, said Patel.

COVID-19 restrictions have reduced his business by one-half from last year, said Patel, but he takes comfort in the joy he sees it brings to his visitors.

“They come and stay in the motel, and they are happy,” he said. “We are proud to be part of Movie Manor.”

The Manor may be one of a diminishing breed. The first movie drive-in was started in the 1930s in New Jersey, and they gained “immense popularity” in the 1950s and ’60s when there were about 4,000 in the U.S., mainly in rural areas, according to the New York Film Academy website. Their popularity has waned with the changing times and they now number about 300 nationwide.

The Academy website sums it up: “No matter the fate of America’s drive-ins, they will always be a nostalgic and cultural icon.”

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