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Free Citizen

This writer espouses individual liberty, free markets, and limited government.

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Location: Jackson, Mississippi, United States

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Beverly Drive-In

This Associated Press article appeared in The Clarion-Ledger on Sunday, May 6, 2001. The Beverly has since closed again.

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HATTIESBURG-- The landmark - and long-closed - Beverly Drive-In in Hattiesburg [Mississippi] will reopen Friday after 15 years of gathering dust.

Jim Norton and Barbara Suick, owners of seven drive-in theaters in Florida and Wisconsin, will make the Beverly their eighth theater. The couple operates N&S Theater Drive-Ins. The Beverly... according to experts... will be among 600 of the businesses still operating in the country.

Jackson resident Lillian Loggans said she's driving to Hattiesburg [some 90 miles south of Jackson] when the Beverly opens.

"I remember the first time I ever went to the Beverly," Loggans said. "It was the year it opened and a group of us went in a hearse. I can remember that to this day. I also remember seeing Gone With the Wind there for the first time and Singin' in the Rain."

Suick said she plans showing first-run pictures. The theater will be open seven days a week.

The Beverly's reopening is part of a small trend that many see as a backlash to today's complex culture, said Jennifer Sherer, founder of Drive-On-In Inc., a business dedicated to preserving the drive-in movie.

In the 1990s, 17 new drive-ins were built and 49 were reburbished and reopened, she said.

"The drive-in represents a simpler time," said Rhonda Coulter of Hattiesburg. Coulter, 43, remembers playing Goofy Golf at the theater when she was in high school. "It was fun to me. It may not be as much fun to youths today as it was to us. We didn't have as many things to do then as they do now."

Neighbors welcome the return of the drive-in.

Wallace Bolton, of Hattiesburg, remembers when he used to pass by the drive-in, wishing he had the money to go inside. He plans to take his five children.

"It seems a little too good to be true," Bolton said. "I can let them see how it is and tell them how it used to be."

Bolton, 39, lives in Palmers Crossing, near the theater on U. S. 49 South.

The drive-in will have 500 spaces for viewers to park and view two big screens, one 100 feet by 75 feet and another 80 feet by 40 feet.

The technology has changed. Instead of parking by speakers, moviegoers will have to tune their radios to a low power radio transmitter.

At the Beverly, repairs have been made to its roof, a new wastewater system has been installed, and walls have been painted.

Suzette Hargroder, of Hattiesburg, the daughter of the theater's first owners, lives inside a house built into the theater [screen]. She is leasing the facility to Norton and Suick.

"It's real exciting to see it light up again," Hargroder said. "It has such a historical perspective and is a landmark that's been closed and is coming back again."

Herby and Sue Hargroder, Suzette's parents, opened the drive-in May 29, 1948. The first movie shown there was Swell Guy, and admission was 39 cents a person. The drive-in operated for 31 years without interruption, until it was hit by Hurricane Frederic in 1979. It closed in 1987 after Herby Hargroder's death.

In the interim, Suzette Hargroder leased the theater for private events.

"We're trying to keep as much of the atmosphere as there was originally," Suick said. "There are funky colors, a lot of signage that will remain the same and a cafeteria-style concession. It's going to be real cool and a lot of fun."

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There are now only two drive-in theaters left in Mississippi. One is located in Guntown, some 15 miles north of Tupelo; this is in Lee County in northeast Mississippi. The other one is in Iuka, which is in the northeast corner of the state, in Tishomingo County. Three good Web sites on drive-in theaters are Drive-ins.com, DriveinMovie.com, and DriveinTheater.com.

This interesting article on the history of drive-ins says that there were 384 of them left in the U. S. at the end of 2008.

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