Starlite Drive-In

801 E. Hawthorne Road,
Spokane, WA 99218

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Starlite Drive-In

Walt Hefner opened the 500-car Starlite Drive-In, Spokane’s seventh open-air theater, on November 17, 1972 with Peter Cushing in “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, Yul Brynner in “The Magnificent Seven” & Margaret Rutherford in “The Mouse on the Moon”. The Spokesman-Review said that Hefner originally planned to open in June. Since he was his own contractor, he saved $103,000 in construction costs by opening it in November.

The Starlite Drive-In regularly showed triple and even quadruple feature exploitation movies, the type which would have made Quentin Tarantino proud. In 1981 Hefner was quoted in the news as saying: “Some of the movies we show are terrible, but our audience knows that and appreciates that". It was said that he “considers good bad movies one of the main attractions of his business".

In October of 1984 the Starlite Drive-In closed the season and forever with a five-feature blowout.

Mr. Hefner had realized a good return on his investment in bad movies because he had sold the land to Tom Moyer of Luxury Theatres for a million dollars. In 1985 the Newport Cinemas opened on the site of the former drive-in.

In 1991 the Spokesman-Review said Hefner put the proceeds of the sale to use by producing a $750,000 low-budget film of his own, which was called “The Ghosting". The movie was produced and filmed in Spokane with local actors. Where did Walt choose to premiere his movie? It was at the Newport Cinemas, the former location of his Starlite Drive-In.

Contributed by Ron Pierce

Recent comments (view all 5 comments)

Drive-In 54
Drive-In 54 on December 21, 2012 at 3:33 am

Uploaded movie ad from Nov 17,1972

eriksmith on September 12, 2015 at 3:14 am

I remember the Starlite Drive-In well — really my favorite of all the many drive-ins we had in the Spokane area in the 1970s. What made the Starlite great was its eclectic bookings. Instead of the first and second-run features that were shown at most of the drive-ins, or the somewhat naughtier movies that played at the nearby “Y” Drive-In, the Starlite featured triple-bills of early-sixties Roger Corman horror movies, or nights of nothing but cartoons, or science-fiction nights.

I still remember a night in the late ‘70s catching a double-bill of “When Worlds Collide” and “War of the Worlds.” Keep in mind these movies were 25 years old at that point. And just think — how many people in the late '70s, in a town like Spokane, would have understood that these two movies were linked by the fact that they were among the greatest films directed by George Pal? It was as if the Starlite was a repertory theater of the very greatest drive-in fare.

In the mid-‘80s, as Walt Hefner sold out for the (now-closed) Newport Cinemas, and I was working as a young reporter for the Spokesman-Review, I called him for an interview and met a guy who who clearly was in the exhibition business because he loved movies. I had to confess to him there was many a night, back in high school, when I shimmied up the trees behind the drive-in and watched from a perch on a high branch, trying to make out the sound from the far-off in-car speakers. And when my friends finally reached driving age, there had even been a time or two when several of us hid under blankets in the back seat to avoid paying admission at the gate. The Starlite was a special place, and I can’t blame Hefner for selling out — the drive-in was going the way of the do-do bird by 1985 — but Spokane lost something important when the Starlite closed.

davidcoppock on November 3, 2018 at 6:01 am

Opened with some Donald Duck and Daffy Duck cartoons, and “Hound of the Baskervilles”, The Magnificent 7", and “Mouse on the Moon”.

MichaelKilgore on May 28, 2020 at 9:26 am

The May 28, 1973 issue of Boxoffice had a long story about Walt Hefner and his “do-it-yourself” drive-in. Quoting an article in the Spokane Chronicle, Boxoffice wrote: “Asked to comment on the portions of the Starlite he helped build, Hefner replied: ‘It would be easier to say what I didn’t do.’” Professionals were involved in installing the 40x90-foot steel screen and in making sure his plumbing and electrical work was up to building codes. It took Hefner two years to complete the project, which cost him about $103,000.

Jamey_monroe45 on July 14, 2023 at 10:13 pm

801 E Hawthorne Rd, Spokane, WA 99218 is the true addressnot Newport Hwy.

Now U-Haul. Please update.

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