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DRIVE-IN THEATER STILL FLOURISHES ON REDWOOD ROAD - ALL YEAR ROUND

Teens of the 1990s might have to park in front of a video recorder. Recent history has not been good to the drive-in theater.

Throughout the country, outdoor movie screens are on the endangered list. But despite the national trend, Salt Lake families remain committed to the drive-in, says Larry Healy, district manager of the DeAnza Land and Leisure Co.'s Redwood Drive-In."Regardless of what our reputation has been over the years, we thrive on the family," Healy says. "We have customers that are here every single week all year-round, no matter what movie we are playing. In the summertime, I think for many people it is just a weekly outing with the family."

As outdoor theater screens have closed elsewhere, the valley's relic of a simpler time still draws summer sell-out crowds to the asphalt fields off Redwood Road.

In other communities, tales of parking at the drive-in on a summer evening might be going the way of the dime-store soda fountain. Some estimate there are only 1,500 outdoor movie screens left in the country.

In other communities, violence at drive-ins keeps customers prisoner inside their cars. At Redwood, families still allow their children to roam.

In the Salt Lake area, moms and dads still bring the lawn chairs and spread blankets on car hoods for the kids. Teenagers still cruise the lots looking for friends.

"It's a gathering place for teenagers, like it has always been," Healy said. "We're lucky in Salt Lake that the morals and the values of the community are such that a place like this can still operate."

Every weekend all summer, 2,000 cars are parked among the 27 acres of the Redwood Drive-In, the longtime shingled landmark lording over the west side's commuter thoroughfare, its garish yellow reader board commanding attention.

Nationally, the novelty of a drive-in culture has faded. Americans may still love their cars in 1990, may use them as portable offices by installing cellular phones in them, may avoid street noise by surrounding themselves in vehicular CD sound, but at night most people park their vehicles and watch their movies from the padded seats.

"Now we're just about forgotten," Healy said. "There are indoor screens by the hundreds. Nobody pays much attention to us anymore."

But this longtime business, which is changing with the times by turning to radio sound, caters to the local market by keeping its prices family-friendly. Adults pay $4; children under 12 are free.

The company formerly owned as many as four drive-ins throughout the valley. As they were forced to close those locations due to economic concerns, they recycled the equipment and expanded the Redwood location. "Over the years, as the demographics changed, the families grew up and the children had to leave those areas. Right now we feel that the families are here on the west side," Healy says.

And the drive-in tries to tailor movies to its clientele. "Something that might be deemed obscene by the majority of the people, we try to avoid it," Healy says. "We don't want to get into the more risque movies." Customers appear to appreciate the selection. The most successful feature last summer was the family-flavored show, "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids."

Redwood keeps at least one of its screens open throughout the year. Among other reasons, that decision is a nod to loyal employees, who number up to 75 during the summer.

In the harshest winter months, customers are issued a heater. That all six screens are now open - snow or not - marks the turn of a season as surely as a robin's appearance or a blooming daffodil.

But Healy admits he's not expecting a huge crowd. That will come later in the year. "People aren't thinking drive-ins right now."