The famous Motor Vu Theater in Erda changed hands in February.
Now known as the Erda Drive-In, the 73-year old outdoor theater that survived a tornado is owned by the Peterson family, the same family that owns the Peterson Industrial Depot in Tooele City.
“We found out it [the Motor Vu in Erda] was for sale, so we made an offer on it,” said Aaron Peterson, president of Peterson Industrial Depot. “We are big supporters of the community so we decided to keep it running for the time being.”
After the Peterson family purchased the theater, they noticed that there was a drive-in in Riverdale with almost an identical name, “Motor Vu Drive-In Theater”, so they decided to change the name.
“We wanted to change the name, because there were always conflicts online when people were buying tickets,” Peterson explained. “They would purchase tickets for the Motor Vu in Riverdale, instead of the Motor Vu in Erda.”
When asked where the new name for the theater came from, Peterson said, “It’s in Erda, so we thought, ‘The Erda Drive In.’ We wanted to represent Erda.”
Since purchasing the theater, Peterson and his family have installed a new 4K laser projector, which makes the quality of movies better. The theater had a 2k projector before.
The screen has been repaired and repainted. The Petersons have also upgraded the famous “snack shack.”
The snack shack now serves Coke and Pepsi products, as well as mixed soda and energy drinks, candy, churros, pickles, nachos, beef jerky, and snow cones.
Various different sizes of popcorn can also be found at the snack shack. There is a 46-ounce size all the way up to a five-gallon bucket for $45. Refills on the five-gallon bucket are only $20.
“The buckets are refillable for the whole season,” Peterson said.
When the theater was run by the previous owners, they showed two features each night. The new owners show one.
“In the past, they used to play what are called second run movies,” Peterson explained. “Our goal is to play first run movies, like Top Gun we opened and Doctor Strange we opened.”
The theater is open Thursday through Saturday the beginning of May until September or October an hour before showtime and showtime is about 10 to 20 minutes after sunset.
The drive-in can hold 250 cars.
After opening in May 2022, the Petersons’ have been pleasantly surprised with business.
“Business has been good,” Peterson said. “As long as the weather is good, business is good. It’s definitely not as strong as a movie theater, per se but it’s an experience with the outdoor theater, versus going to a movie house.”
After the Peterson’s bought the Erda Motor Vu, the Riverdale Motor Vu closed and was rezoned for residential housing.
There has been a long-time decline in drive-in theaters nationwide.
In 1954 there were 34 drive-in theaters in Utah, according to driveintheater.com. Peterson said there are now four drive-in theaters in Utah.
The Petersons’ hope to keep the Erda Drive-In from avoiding the same fate as the Riverdale Motor Vu. The plan is to keep the Erda Drive-In operation as a theater as long as possible, according to Peterson.
“We will keep it in business as long as we can get the community to support the drive-in,” Peterson said.
The owners make money through the snack shack, because movie producers take most of the money for ticket sales, according to Peterson.
“We hope people will support the theater by purchasing concessions,” Peterson said.
No outside food or drink is permitted in the theater.
“We are down to four of these theaters in the state of Utah,” Peterson continued. “This is one of the last remaining ones in the Wasatch Front. It’s such a fun experience to come watch a movie out of the back of your truck, lawn chair, couch, or whatever.”
The theater first opened somewhere between 1948-1950, according to conflicting accounts, after drive-ins became popular in the 1930’s.
The Bradshaw family purchased the theater in the 60’s. Alan Bradshaw said he has spent 60 years at the theater until selling it to the Petersons.
A tornado came through Erda in 1991 and destroyed the screen, causing the Bradshaw family over $50,000 in damage. After a tornado, a sign on the famous marquee read, “Oh Shi-,” according to an article in the Transcript Bulletin.
“I hate not to rebuild it,” Bradshaw said, speaking after the tornado. “It’s been part of my life for so many years.”
So, the screen was replaced and business continued on as usual.
Community members gladly shared their memories with the Transcript.
“I watched Grease at the drive-in in 1978,” Donoven White remembered. “I was 10 years old. I was in love with Olivia Newton-John. I lived about three blocks down the street and used to sneak down the street to watch again.”
Toby Cardenas shared a memory from the Fourth of July in the 70’s.
“I’m thinking about the 1979 Fourth of July,” he said. “They had fireworks on intermission in front of the screen where the kid’s playground was. All of a sudden one flew in the fireworks boxes and they started shooting towards cars and [the] crowd.”
“I got engaged there in 1960,” Marilyn Almberg said. “I wish I knew what movie was playing in August 1960.”
Several individuals also noted that in the 1990’s Depeche Mode filmed their “World In My Eyes” music video at the theater.
The Erda Drive -In is located at 4055 North Highway 36 in Erda.
Please visit erdadrivein.com to purchase tickets, view the upcoming movies, view the snack shack menu, or contact the owners.
Tickets can also be purchased at the theater before the show.