SHINNSTON, W.Va. — For 70 years, the Sunset Ellis Drive-In Theater has offered movie lovers from both near and far a unique, nostalgic experience.
The theater first opened in August 1947 by three Spaniard immigrants who built everything by hand, said Antoinette Casto, who is part of the family that now owns the theater.
“We actually have a journal I found not too long ago, that one of the wives of the Spaniards kept a list of every movie that was shown from 1947 to 1959, in addition to some newspaper articles of what happened throughout the years,” Casto said. “It’s actually a really cool piece of history that we found.”
At that time, movies were 50 cents per person, and the theater was opened year round.
Though the prices, as well as features such as the ticket booth, the projection booth and the screen have changed, it’s still the same nostalgic experience.
“It’s someplace you can go and not have to worry about anything,” Casto said. “Maybe get rid of your cell phones for awhile, just relax and have an enjoyable evening. There’s so few places you can go and do that these days.”
Sunset-Ellis Drive-In Theater, which was purchased by John and Jean Ellis in 1955, is one of only two drive-in theaters that remains in West Virginia.
“For us to still be open and have this available for the local community, we can see that they really like it,” Casto said. “Obviously it’s weather permitting, but when it is nice weather, we usually have a couple hundred cars, and that’s saying something.”
The business’ 70 years were celebrated Saturday with nearly three hours of fun and games before the first movie began at 8:45 p.m.
“Really the evening is for our patrons,” Casto said. “It’s all about an appreciation evening to say ‘thank you’ for supporting us all these years.”
Guests were treated to a magician from Pennsylvania, a move-themed car-decorating contest, a popcorn bar, music, games and door prizes.
Though not every weekend is quite as large of a celebration, guests are always eager to enjoy a movie at the drive-in.
“People come up for reunions from out of town, and they’ll come to the drive-in just because it’s fun, good, clean, happy memories for them,” Casto said. “And it still continues to today. It never ends.”
Casto said she enjoys being able to provide that experience to new generations.
“It’s just nice to provide happy memories for the family and friends that we have around here,” she said. “It just brings good feelings to everybody, I think.”