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Whidbey Island’s Blue Fox Drive-In Theater still going strong after 60 years

Rachel Belle at Blue Fox Drive-In on Whidbey Island. (Rachel Belle, KIRO Radio)

Five drive-in movie theaters are still standing in Washington state and the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater on Whidbey Island is celebrating a special anniversary.

“This is the 60th anniversary of the Blue Fox. It’s older than me!” said Darrell Bratt, who has co-owned the drive-in with his wife since 1988.

“It opened in ’59 by a gentleman named Woody Cecil. The first movie ever played was April Love with Pat Boone and Shirley Jones. The first movie we played back in ’88 was Planes Trains and Automobiles and The Running Man.”

The drive-in is open year round — seven days a week during the summer months and weekends only the rest of the year. The lot gets jam packed with families who layer blankets into the beds of their pickup trucks and set up lawn chairs behind their cars to enjoy the double feature.

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When you drive in, you’ll see the Go-Kart track that Bratt and his wife added when they took over the place. Then get in the long line at the snack bar to get your treats. Follow the sound of popcorn popping and the smell of freshly-baked pizza.

“We make our own crust, we grate the cheese fresh and make our own sauce,” Bratt said. “Better food for a drive-in because I do like food and I like food that tastes good!”

Going to the movies here is cheap; admission is only $6.50 for adults and a buck for each kid.

“We try to keep our prices very low because I come from a family of seven, I have four children,” Bratt said. “I know what it’s like to entertain a large family. So we try and keep it affordable for everyone to enjoy. A tub of popcorn is $6.50 for a huge plastic tub. A big basket of curly fries, which is a the whole basket, is $4.75, which will feed a family of four.”

Finally, around 8:45 p.m. in mid-summer, the sun will set low enough to fire up the projector.

“Then we’ll play the national anthem and then we’ll go into a Looney Tunes cartoon,” Bratt said. “We play a different one every week because I remember seeing all those cartoons when I went to the movies as a kid. And then it goes into the movie.”

Around 2011, all theaters in the nation were told they needed to switch to a digital system by 2013. Film companies were no longer making movies on film, so it was digital or bust. Blue Fox spent a year and a half raising $90,000 by selling t-shirts and sweatshirts from its adjacent screen printing shop.

“I think after that, business really started to thrive for us because of the awareness to the drive-ins that were out there struggling to survive, to make the conversion. On a national scale, not just local.”

Bratt’s kids literally grew up at the drive-in, their home is on the same lot, and three out of four of them still work there. Kelsey Bratt married one of his sons.

“I also feel like I married the drive-in,” she said. “We’re here 90 percent of our lives and it’s really fun to watch everybody.”

Duwamish Drive-In was not really about the movies

And fun fact:

“The reason it’s called the Blue Fox, from what I understand from the original owner, was when he built the place in ’59 he didn’t have a name for it,” Bratt recalled. “He contacted a sign company to build a sign for him. The maker of the sign says, ‘I’ve got a deal for you if you’re not picky on your name.’ He had a sign that was the Blue Fox Drive-In, you know the old drive-in restaurants. He goes, ‘It’s a repossessed sign, so if you call it that I can make you a heck of a deal on a sign!’ That’s how it got the name of the Blue Fox drive-in.”

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