Life

Eastern Iowa drive-in theater shows modern blockbusters in a throwback fashion

61 Drive-In Theatre in Delmar, 5 miles south of Maquoketa, an easy day trip

People watch a movie at the 61 Drive-In movie theater in Delmar, Iowa on Friday, May 15, 2020. The single-screen theater
People watch a movie at the 61 Drive-In movie theater in Delmar, Iowa on Friday, May 15, 2020. The single-screen theater, which has been in operation since 1950, uses FM radio to transmit sound. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
/

Five miles south of Maquoketa, tucked amid corn and soybean fields along Highway 61, sits the 61 Drive-In Theatre, a throwback to the glory days of outdoor theaters.

The drive-in has been showing first-run movies for the past 70 years, opening in 1950 when drive-ins were plentiful.

Dennis Voy, 81, of Maquoketa, who also owns a local radio station, bought the drive-in in 1972.

“A friend owned the theater and urged me to buy it as I could promote it with my radio station,” Voy said. “I bought it over a morning cup of coffee and immediately put my father-in-law to work, who needed something to do with early stage MS (multiple sclerosis).”

The 61 Drive-in Theatre is now only one of four outdoor movie theaters in Iowa.

Voy says some things have changed over the years. Speaker stands are no longer in the parking spots; movie-goers tune their vehicle radio or a portable radio to an FM station to hear the movie’s audio.

Voy suggests bringing lawn chairs or blankets and a portable radio if you want to watch the movie from outside your vehicle. With 200 spots, the 61 Drive-In does sometimes sell out, so get there before 8 p.m. The first of two movies begins at dusk, usually about 9 p.m.

There’s plenty to do while you wait.

“We have a swing set, sandbox, tetherballs, basketball, volleyball net, wiffle ball diamond and free kiddie train rides for people who come early to get their favorite parking spot,” Voy said. “People come as early as 6:30 p.m., and we like to see kids busy all the way to showtime. Parents can play cards, talk, snack a lot and watch the kids have fun.”

The small kiddie train that winds through the lot once had been used at Lindale Mall in Cedar Rapids.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“I heard it might be for sale,” Voy said. “I bought it, and the four-car, rubber-tired train has given thousands of rides around the drive-in ever since.”

While families can bring their own food and drinks, the theater has a full-service concession stand that offers popcorn, burgers, hot dogs and drinks, among other things. Voy says many people will bring a cooler but also get hot food at the concession stand.

The drive-in is open six days a week, June through August (closed Mondays), and open weekends in May and September. Tickets are $9 for adults, $7 for teens and $5 for kids, with kids 3 and under getting in free. The 35-by-60-foot screen shows double features, so “you get quite the bargain out of it, $9 for two, three or six hours of movies.”

“It’s a fact that most people stay for the second movie, even though it may last until 1 or so in the morning,” Voy said. “And many nights, we may have to walk down and wake someone who couldn’t make it until the end.”

Most of the movies are family-friendly. “They are mostly all PG or G movies so the whole family can watch and enjoy,” Voy said. “Disney really makes that easy for us.”

Each week’s double-header is announced on Monday. The theater also lists possible upcoming titles, like “Mulan” and “Wonder Woman 1984,” on its website. With new movie releases postponed due to the coronavirus, the theater may show more classics this summer, like “Field of Dreams,” “The Goonies” or “Beetlejuice.”

To find out what movies are playing, you can call the movie information line at (563) 674-4367 or visit 61-driveintheatre.com. Check online for any closings or restrictions due to the coronavirus.

Making Maquoketa a day trip

If planning a stop at the 61 Drive-in Theatre, you may want to go earlier in the day or make a weekend of it to see other attractions in the Maquoketa area, a little more than an hour’s drive from Cedar Rapids.

The must-see place most people think of is Maquoketa Caves State Park. It’s best to call – (563) 652-5833 – or check online at iowadnr.gov to make sure the caves, temporarily closed because of the coronavirus, have reopened.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

The park has 13 caves, the most of any other state park in Iowa, and you can easily visit all of them in a day. Some, like Dancehall Cave, are large enough to walk through, while others require crawling (so wear old clothes and bring a flashlight). The park also offers more than 7 miles of hiking trails, a campground and plenty of picnicking spots.

Other options for outdoor activities include hiking at the 273-acre Prairie Creek Recreation Area or traversing the Maquoketa River Water Trail, where canoes and kayaks can be rented at Maquoketa River Rental.

Fans of indie music may be able to ride a hayrack down to the Codfish Hollow Barnstormers, with live music on a barn stage. Go online to codfishhollowbarnstormers.com for an updated schedule and any virus-related cancellations or restrictions.

Racing fans may be able to head out to the Maquoketa Speedway at the Jackson County Fairgrounds to watch late models, modifieds, street stocks, sport mods, hobby stocks and four-cylinders race.

Combine your shopping and dining with a visit to Farmers Creek Antiques/Mac’s Wine Cellar. Or catch live music at Ohnward Fine Arts Center (ohnwardfineartscenter.com), where an Elvis tribute show and a polka party are tentatively planned for this summer.

Be sure and check online before you go for any virus-related closings, restrictions and cancellations.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.