The Starlite 14 Drive-In


The Starlite 14 Drive-In is a fantastic example of a drive-in theater that opened in the late 1950's and remains mostly unchanged. 

It is located in Richland Center, Wisconsin on the north side of Wisconsin State Highway 14.  It is a community social gathering center and every year is a new challenge to the owners whether to re-open for the season. 

It just recently recently announced that it will be open for 2012, but the owners are aggressively pursuing fund raising options.

Since this is the last post of a three part series on drive-in movie theaters, it will cover a lot of ground, including drive-in theater marquees, house rules and finally the movie screen itself.


Contrary to the rest of the authentic drive-in theater, the Starlite 14 marque is new and uninteresting.  The old marque probably was damaged beyond repair because of a high wind storm.

This is unfortunate.  The new sign is really the only inauthentic part of the Starlite 14.  Most well-preserved drive-in marques are as loud and as obnoxious as possible, almost like a casino.  The point was to attract attention and incite interest in the featured movies.

The 'falling' letters also seem to be deliberate in that it forces you to pause for a split-second longer.  This is seen on almost every drive-in marque. 

But, the reality is that it is probably just a broken bracket on the back of the letter.


The Starlite 14 ticket booth is wonderfully authentic.  It is as small as necessary and possible, but still serves a practical purpose.


The prices are on a per-person basis, so this contributes to the teenage tradition of trying to 'sneak' in via the trunk. 

Wise and experienced drive-in operators know enough to pop the trunks of most cars with a rowdy group of teenagers.


Drive-in theaters have a well deserved reputation of being 'passion pits'.   Teenagers, in a darkened car, with a taste of freedom via a driver's license, well, the rest is obvious.

Drive-in management has learned to be tough with rule breakers.  There is no other option if you are trying to run a struggling business.


Drive-in operators are also experimenting with new ways to make revenue.  Flea markets, farmer's markets and swap meets are three additional ways to make money during daylight.

A new challenge will be when video is distributed only in a 100% digital formt.  It is an expensive upgrade for these operators and several will close because it is no longer cost effective to be open.

The free enterprise system has a remarkable way of self-correcting.  A new drive-in theater model is the portable model.  Using inflatable screens and digital projection, the theater can move to where people congregate.


Drive-in theater video quality is almost unwatchable.  It takes a powerful lamp to project a large image a long distance and a compromise in image quality will be inevitable. 

A discolored screen and film scratches don't help either.


The Starlite 14 is a living relec of a passing era. 

It is worth a visit, if, for no other reason than to visit it becasue you still can.