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When the Frontier Drive-In debuted on May 14, 1955, more than 300 cars packed into its lot in the rural San Luis Valley. Whether initially drawn by opening night’s free admission or the opportunity to see Academy Award winner Edmond O’Brien avenge his murdered fiancée in Warpath, many in the crowd returned. Like movie houses and drive-ins across the country, the Frontier became a cultural lifeline for local ranching and farming families—until cable TV put it out of business in 1985. Now, 37 years later, Mark Falcone, a Denver developer whose Continuum Partners helped revamp Union Station, hopes to make the Frontier an artistic force in the region once again.
The project is personal. Not only did Falcone fall in love with the valley when he helped the Nature Conservancy purchase land there in the ’90s, but also his two children are well connected to people in the film industry. The theater, outside the town of Center, is being developed by a family-led offshoot of Continuum called Continuud.
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The Frontier won’t just host blockbusters. It will be a hub for stage performances and art installations, among other cultural events, coordinated by part-time valley resident and former Denver gallery owner Adam Gildar. “We see the restoration as a way for residents of the larger cities on the Front Range to become better connected to the lifestyle of our rural fellow citizens,” Falcone says. On-site yurts and cabins will encourage visiting urbanites to stay longer and contribute more to the local economy, which—long past its heyday of mining boomtowns and trading centers along the Old Spanish Trail—is one of the most impoverished in the state.
That’s why many residents are excited about the Frontier and other arts-driven projects popping up in the valley (see below). “It brings a sense of possibility to a place that, for a long time, didn’t feel much hope,” says 49-year-old rancher and lifelong valley resident David Colville. The existing community won’t be left out, either. The Frontier’s culinary events will pair visiting chefs with local farmers, and there are plans for a small film festival focused on water issues affecting the valley. Falcone hopes this will help the Frontier become a gathering place for entertainment as well as education, both served with a bag of buttery popcorn.
More Businesses Blooming in the San Luis Valley
The Frontier Drive-In isn’t a solo show. Three more transplants are bringing fresh ideas to San Luis Valley towns.
1. New Sky Ranch
Partners, artists, and former Boulderites Victor Rivera and Gigi Douglas plan to host free eco-focused workshops on everything from permaculture to green building techniques when their studio, glamping site, and creative retreat launches this summer.
2. General Specific Store
Owners and Florida transplants Corey Hubbard and Ryan Methfessel often throw dinner parties and community art shows in the historical, tin-ceilinged upstairs ballroom of their new art emporium and curiosities shop.
3. Mellow Moon Lodge
After fleeing the East Coast in 2018, filmmaker and San Luis Valley native Sam Bricker and his wife, Jessica Lovelace, transformed a 1940s motor lodge into this minimalist retro retreat complete with a bike shop and bar.
[Editor’s note: A previous version of this story erroneously reported that chef Kelly Whitaker is involved with the Frontier Drive-In. We regret the error.]