My parents, Bill and Gladys Dobbs, entered into the theater business in 1944. I was six years old. That PNW theater circuit was purchased which took in Parma, New Plymouth and Wilder. My dad drove to Wilder every night and my Mom and I spent every night at the Parma Theater. I now look back with amazement as to how I made it through second grade. As the years progressed we became a little more normal and stayed home on school nights.
These were great years for the movie industry. During the war people became accustomed to staying in town and the movie theater was the only form of entertainment in Parma. This continued until 1953 when the biggest movie depression of all times arrived in Parma. It was not gradual. It was as overnight as when you switched on your first television set. We went from long lines at the box office to a handful of patrons. The word television was not spoken in our home.
The television invasion brought about another movie phenomenon - the drive-in theater. My father had great foresight and started the wheels turning. June 1953 we opened one of the valley's first drive-in theaters, the Parma Motor-Vu. I was a freshman in high school and as we "Rocked Around the Clock" it was a very exciting time in my life.
Those years were good; however, not great years. The major salvation back in the 1960s was Spanish-speaking films. That is what kept the Parma Theatre and the Motor-Vu open. By the 1970s my parents began to enjoy many prosperous years at the Motor-Vu. They started to think 'retirement' but every time a potential buyer came around dad would run them off the place. He just couldn't give up his dream. It was 1976 when we entered into an arrangement which allowed them semi-retirement.
The 1980s were tough times for the drive-in theater. Movies on TV, videos, etc. all took a toll. The Parma theater closed in 1985. The famous Motor-Vu marquee neon went out except for the MO. We couldn't afford to get it fixed and the kids started calling it the MO. At first, it didn't seem too cute to us since it was a reminder of hard times, but it wasn't long before we too were calling it the MO. finally, two years later, we got it fixed and would you believe it - the 'R' still didn't work and we then had Moe Toe Voo - ah so.
By the time we got into the 1990s the drive-ins that were left in the country started getting newer movies and the nostalgia set in, business started gaining once again. We have stressed a family atmosphere, a clean and safe facility and the best popcorn in the valley.
It was 1998 when we were able to get "modern" and install the platter film system. This is when the entire evening's program is spliced together onto one platter. What a joy it has been. And now we are seeing a huge change for the industry. By the end of 2013 there will no longer be film. Everything will be digital and that is where the Motor-Vu will be when we open for the season on April 5, 2013.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Motor-Vu. It is my pride and joy as I recall my own three children growing up out here and now I have six grandchildren on payroll. A seventh one, the oldest, and my own kids help out on occasion. It is a family affair, for sure.
See you at the Motor-Vu.
Karen Dobbs Cornwell.