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Washington Voices

Museum has ‘auto’ motive

Sat., Aug. 6, 2011

Spokane Valley Heritage Museum volunteers Don Gorman, left, and Jerry Anderson examine the recently acquired East Trent Motor In Theatre sign. (J. Bart Rayniak)
Spokane Valley Heritage Museum volunteers Don Gorman, left, and Jerry Anderson examine the recently acquired East Trent Motor In Theatre sign. (J. Bart Rayniak)

Director seeking items from former drive-in

You don’t have to be that old to remember drive-in theaters and the experiences that came along with them.

Jerry Anderson, a longtime Spokane Valley resident, remembers begging his parents to take him to the East Trent Motor In Theatre to see “Rock Around the Clock” starring Bill Haley in 1956. He was 13 years old at the time and he sat in the back seat of the family car with his parents in the front.

“Something is happening with music,” he remembered saying to himself at the time. The experience of rock ’n’ roll on the big screen made a big impact on Anderson, who went on to work as a disc jockey for KZUN in Spokane Valley.

Others have memories of the theater on East Trent that weren’t as wholesome as Anderson’s.

“Oh, the old passion pit,” one woman recently said to Spokane Valley Heritage Museum’s Director Jayne Singleton. The woman went on to tell a story about an evening of teenage necking.

“That was the place to take your date,” Singleton said.

Don Gorman, a volunteer at the museum, joked that he remembered “absolutely nothing” about his days going to the drive-in. He said he was involved in a car club and his car was the one that could hide “adult beverages” to sneak into the theater.

Gorman said the families that visited the drive-in always liked parking next to the car club kids when they came.

“We were drinking, we weren’t necking,” Gorman said.

The museum is hoping to bring back some – but perhaps not all – of the magic of those days. Five years ago, the Justus Bag Company donated the old East Trent Motor In Theatre sign to the museum. This week, volunteers have been working to repaint and restore the sign, which will hang in the outdoor section of the museum. Singleton said they have even ordered the old-time, red reader board letters to use on the marquee.

The theater opened June 8, 1946, at 7:30 p.m. and could hold up to 750 cars on its 10-acre lot on Trent, a quarter of a mile east of Millwood. The movie that night was “Doll Face,” starring Perry Como, Vivian Blaine and Carmen Miranda.

Singleton said she read once the price of admission was $2 a carload. Since they charged by the car, many teens used to hide some friends in their cars’ trunks.

In its heyday, the screen was 48 feet wide by 37 feet tall with two wings which extended the screen by 75 feet on either side. There were playground toys for kids in front of the screen, including a merry-go-round, a speed boat and racing cars. It was built for $90,000.

Sadly, the drive-in fell out of fashion in the 1980s. The advent of cable television and home video rentals drove moviegoers inside their homes. The theater closed in 1986.

“It’s time to come outside again,” Singleton said. “Our goal is to have outdoor movie night here at the end of August.”

She hasn’t set a date for the movie night yet, but she knows the movie will start at sunset and the price of admission will be a donation to the museum.

Other than the East Trent sign (the museum also has the old sign from the East Sprague Drive-In), the museum doesn’t have many artifacts to display about the bygone era.

“We are looking for stories, information, pictures or memorabilia,” she said. She hopes former employees might still have part of their uniforms or moviegoers might have old ticket stubs.

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