Be Valle Happy, at Newton’s Drive-In theatre

Drive-in movie theaters, a product of the 1930s and a staple of mid-century American life, combined the comfort of a car and privacy of a nighttime showing for a more pleasurable cinematic adventure. Friends could be wacky, loud and brazen without disrupting the movie for others, parents could bring screaming babies without infuriating other audience members and couples could park in rear stalls, put down the seats and talk about how great drive-in movie theaters really are.

Today, drive-ins have evolved to become something of a novelty attraction. Thankfully, Grinnell residents are only a 25-minute drive away from a time machine: the oldest operating drive-in movie theater in Iowa.

Grinnell’s Strand theatre has plenty to offer, being right in town with easy ticket access and popular film selection in a small-town setting. But if you are feeling nostalgic and prefer to view your movies from the hood of a car or the trunk of your minivan, perhaps it’s time to drive by the Valle Drive-In.

Valle Drive-In, located just off of I-80 in Newton, has been serving moviegoers since it opened in 1949. The drive-in generally shows two movies a week, Friday through Sunday before Memorial Day and after Labor day and every night of the week in between those dates. The theater itself is a classic American vestige of the first drive-ins to grace United States culture. Valle Drive-In is one of the last drive-in movie theaters in the country to still have working outdoor speakers, a quintessential icon of the drive-in theater. Even at 64 years and counting, the nostalgic charm brings a healthy crowd from the surrounding area.

“A lot of it is nostalgia and the fact they are so rare,” said Rachell Tipton, longtime employee of Valle Drive-in, speaking of the theater’s attraction. “A lot of parents and grandparents will bring their kids and grandkids because they share the same experience they had.”

Jim Mertz bought the drive-in in 1976 and has since managed it as a family-friendly cinematic relic of the Midwest. Sunday night, Valle Drive-In showed Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, an animated movie with vague references to deceased Apple CEO Steve Jobs and more puns than there is dead grass on Mac Field. However, if childish humor, Neil Patrick Harris or the first Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs are your fancy, than this pun-tacular film is for you.

Regardless of movie selection, Valle Drive-In is a true testament to a simpler time in American culture. A time when YOLO didn’t corrupt the priorities of American teenagers. A time when soda wasn’t sold in 100 ounce ‘HuMUGous’ containers (Kum & Go). A time when being a musician wasn’t mixing other artists’ music. A simpler time: the age of drive-in-movie theaters.


Drive In - Matt Huck