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Save the Wheel-In Motor Movie Drive-In in Port Townsend

An aerial view of the Wheel-In Motor Movie Drive-In in Port Townsend, surrounded by forest. (Photo courtesy of Rick Wiley)

Back in the 1950’s, there were 4,000 drive-in theaters nationwide. Now there are only five drive-ins remaining in Washington state and one by one they have had to switch over from 35mm to digital if they want to continue to exist. Last year we helped save the Skyline drive-in in Shelton. Now only one drive-in in the state still has to make the digital switch: The Wheel-In motor Movie Drive-In, just outside of Port Townsend, in Jefferson County.

“My grandfather built the Wheel-In Motor Movie in 1952 and we opened in 1953 and have been operating every single summer since,” says theater manager, Rick Wiley. “So we are entering our 61st season. It’s in my blood. I was out there in a playpen before my memory even began.”

Wiley knows he’s biased but he says the theater is pretty special.

“We’re out in the woods of Jefferson County. It is a natural evergreen amphitheater. There is absolutely no ambient light; it’s either the stars or the screen. We’re also the only drive-in theater in the entire state of Washington that still maintains and puts out the classic and traditional drive-in theater speakers on the stanchion that you hang in your car.”

But unless the Wheel-In switches to digital, they cannot open this season, since 35mm films are no longer even available. So like other drive-ins and small independent theaters, they’ve turned to a Kickstarter campaign.

“We’re trying to raise $35,000. The tab for the digital conversion is more like $70,000. This goes against every principal bone in my body, a business is supposed to take care of it’s own bills. But everyone around us is doing the same thing. It’s kind of like you can’t fall on your principal sword.”

The Kickstarter campaign ends Sunday morning and Rick hopes the community will support.

“I don’t make a lot of money out there, I do it just because I love it. I have a real sense of pride when we have a full lot and we’re doing a real good job. There’s isn’t a lot of money in this thing so the margin doesn’t allow for us to be spending $60,000 rebuilding the place. In the Pacific Northwest we’re only open five months a year so the rest of the year the place sits out there and collects property tax bills. The Kickstarter thing, I hate to ask people to donate to a privately owned business, but this is a once-in-a-career type thing. We’ve been there 61 years without a hiccup. When we make this conversion we are good to go.”

Click here to donate to the Kickstarter campaign. If they get the funding on Sunday, Wiley says they’ll purchase and install the new equipment immediately so they can open up for summer.

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