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Lonn Taylor on Noisy Children, Empty Churches and the Ballroom Drive-In

15 Mar 2013

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Ballroom Marfa Drive-In and Vizcaino Park Master Plan

In last week’s edition of our local paper, the Big Bend Sentinel, Fort Davis-based columnist and historian Lonn Taylor asked questions about the ongoing Ballroom Marfa Drive-In project, shedding light on the history of drive-in movie theaters in the process.

“The popularity of drive-ins was a function of the baby boom that followed World War II, when many young families had noisy children,” he writes. “Drive-in owners added playgrounds for the children and concession stands, some of them serving full meals, for adults. Even Marfa, with a population of 3,600, had a drive-in, which opened in 1953 just west of the cemetery and closed six years later.”

He goes on to wonder about the lessons learned from other developers who have tried to launch projects in our Far West Texas town, specifically the failure of the Brite family to establish a Disciples of Christ community in the World War II-era, an exercise that included enticing believers with the work of architect Leighton Green Knipe, who, as Taylor writes, “gave them a magnificent building whose sanctuary will seat five hundred people.” A building which, after the thriving congregation failed to materialize, “now stands empty on the west side of the courthouse square.”

Taylor also considers the more well-known story of Donald Judd’s arrival in the early ’70s and the 40 years in between that turned, in Taylor’s words, “a drought-blighted cattle town into an international art center.”

Ballroom’s Director of External Affairs & Drive-In Project Manager Melissa McDonnell responded with a letter clarifying that the Drive-In project — encompassing a rehabilitation of the entire 21-acre site at Vizcaino Park — goes beyond the historical models discussed by Taylor …

“The Drive-In project also includes a master plan for Vizcaino Park, which has come out of discussions with Presidio County and community members. The master plan looks at the entire park and identifies needed improvements for existing park structures, such as the baseball field bleachers and locates new recreational spaces such as a soccer field and possibly a skate park. Other organizations such as Big Bend Soccer Association and El Cosmico have expressed interest in participating in the development of these new spaces.

“The Drive-In theater space is for all community organizations to use and program,” she continues. “While Ballroom Marfa will have programming that includes film screenings, concerts and operas, the facility will be available for local organizations to host movie screenings, high school graduations, music concerts, plays, etc.”

Further discussion and exploration of this ongoing project is encouraged from all members of our community. Vistors are welcome to stop by the Drive-In Project space at the Ballroom offices, next door to Marfa Studio Arts at 106 San Antonio. Melissa is also available for comments and questions about the Drive-In project at drivein@www.ballroommarfa.org or 432-729-3600. You can also find out more at the Drive-In section of the Ballroom website.

Click here for the full text of Taylor’s column. Click here for Melissa’s response, which we’ve included in full after the jump …

I would first like to thank Lonn Taylor for his delightful article last week about Ballroom’s Drive-In and the history of drive-in’s in West Texas. I appreciate Taylor’s, “Field of Dreams” metaphor, as this is a sentiment many of the project team shares.

Expanding on his article, I would like to take the opportunity to comment on the expenses related to the project and give further detail, as the Drive-In is hardly just a screen, but rather an umbrella term for a public outdoor amphitheater for music, film and performance and a multi-stage park improvement plan for Vizcaino Park. The project includes a new handicap accessible restroom facility with 12 stalls, to be shared by the entire park, and a new playground with new play equipment, soft surfaces and shade. We will build additional picnic areas with three RV hook-ups for food trailers, adjacent to both the baseball field and the theater space. All parking will be re-organized and roadways will be re-surfaced to eliminate the extreme amount of dust created by vehicles during events. All walkways will meet Texas state handicap accessible standards. There will be a new landscape and irrigation plan for the entire park with only Chihuahuan desert native planting, grasses and trees. The irrigation system will cover all areas of the park, including the baseball field. Lighting will meet Dark-Sky standards in compliance with McDonald Observatory. All park signage will be in both English and Spanish.

The Drive-In project also includes a master plan for Vizcaino Park, which has come out of discussions with Presidio County and community members. The master plan looks at the entire park and identifies needed improvements for existing park structures, such as the baseball field bleachers and locates new recreational spaces such as a soccer field and possibly a skate park. Other organizations such as Big Bend Soccer Association and El Cosmico have expressed interest in participating in the development of these new spaces.

When you look at the entire scope of the project on a 21-acre site, the preliminary budgeted amount of $4.5 million, which includes both design, development and construction costs, adds up fast. Discovery Green in Houston, a 12-acre park, cost $125 million! Ballroom Marfa will directly raise the funding required for the project.

The Drive-In theater space is for all community organizations to use and program. While Ballroom Marfa will have programming that includes film screenings, concerts and operas, the facility will be available for local organizations to host movie screenings, high school graduations, music concerts, plays, etc. Vizcaino Park is in a breathtaking setting and was built by an incredible generation of community members. It is essential we continue to show this type of initiative and leadership and maintain the park as an active and beautiful place to visit.

Ballroom Marfa’s dream is that the Drive-In project will reinvigorate Vizcaino Park and bring the community together at a scale Marfa has not seen before. I invite everyone to visit the Drive-In project space and see the design drawings, models and in-process master plan for Vizcaino Park. The space is located next door to Marfa Studio Arts at 106 San Antonio St. You can email me questions or comments at drivein@www.ballroommarfa.org. If you are interested in participating in planning meetings, please send me an email or call me at 432-729-3600.

Sincerely,

Melissa McDonnell

Director of External Affairs & Drive-In Project Manager

Ballroom Marfa