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A Letter from Ballroom Marfa’s Co-Founders on the Future of the Drive-In

11 Jun 2014

Ballroom Marfa Drive-In, rendering by MOS 2012
Ballroom Marfa Drive-In, rendering by MOS 2012

Dear Ballroom Marfa supporters and Marfa community members,

In 2006 Ballroom Marfa began developing an idea for a community space that we started calling the Drive-In. The name came out of our desire to conjure the spirit that used to exist around drive-in movie theaters. Our plans included an outdoor screen/bandshell that we hoped would be just as suitable for high school graduation ceremonies and community theater productions as for film screenings and Tejano concerts, and the Drive-In also called for all kinds of new developments to the eight-acre section of Vizcaino Park that we leased from Presidio County in 2012.

AJ and Sergio Castillo, August 31, 2013.    Photo by Lesley Brown.
AJ and Sergio Castillo, August 31, 2013. Photo by Lesley Brown.

Now, after years of enthusiastic and imaginative collaboration between a crew of partners ranging from the Presidio County Commissioners to the architects at MOS, the Ballroom Marfa Board of Trustees has decided that, in spite of our best intentions, the project has outgrown the original vision. In its current proposed state, the Drive-In project will require significant fundraising efforts that could compromise the level of innovative and community-minded programming that has been Ballroom Marfa’s priority since 2003. As of now further development of the Drive-In is indefinitely deferred.

However, the spirit of this ambitious project is not confined to our enterprising architectural renderings. Thus we are moving forward with a more immediate strategy when it comes to the kind of events the Drive-In was intended to enable.

The Drive-In has invigorated Ballroom Marfa, and has guided us toward accessing existing spaces and better cooperation with our neighbors, whether bringing the Tish Hinojosa Band to the USO Building, inviting Fat Lyle’s food truck into the courtyard for the Sound Speed Marker reception or the spontaneous decision for Marisa Anderson to play an intimate sunset concert amid travel trailers and VW buses in the yard behind our office.

We are energized over the possibilities that this new, more agile framework allows us to realize. Ballroom Marfa’s lease at Vizcaino Park only pertains to the undeveloped softball field. The majority of the park – including the bandshell, baseball field, picnic area and playground – is managed by Presidio County. We’ll continue to program events there in coordination with Presidio County, taking inspiration from past and present Vizcaino Park gatherings like those put together by Ballroom Marfa and other members of the Marfa community.

The Doodlin' Hogwallops, April 21, 2014.    Photo by Lesley Brown.The Doodlin’ Hogwallops, April 21, 2014. Photo by Lesley Brown.

The Drive-In project led us to collaborate with Marfa Chamber of Commerce at to bring Tejano superstar AJ Castillo to Vizcaino Park for the 2013 Marfa Lights Festival and to work with Presidio County 4-H for a concert by Big Bend honky-tonk heroes the Doodlin’ Hogwallops at the county fair. Drive-In thinking led us to work with composer Graham Reynolds for The Marfa Triptych, an ongoing suite of performances blending country, norteño, jazz and opera traditions, all inspired by the culture and landscape our Far West Texas backyard. It also brought us together with the El Paso Opera for July’s upcoming Marfa, El Paso and Ciudad Juárez performances of Vidas Perfectas, a multimedia Spanish-language opera filmed on location here in Marfa, which recently debuted at the 2014 Whitney Biennial to glowing reviews.

So with that in mind we invite your questions and ideas, and also remind you of our upcoming summer programs – our fifth annual DJ Camp, plus free workshops with jazz icon Kahil El’Zabar and a field recording class presented with Marfa Public Radio – and what is sure to be a legendary night with the inimitable Bonnie “Prince” Billy.

In closing we’d like to thank everyone for continuing on with us as we plan for a vibrant future, both here in Texas and abroad. Thank you to all the individuals, foundations, our board of trustees, present and past staff, community members, designers and champions of the Drive-In.

Texas Architect on The Drive-In

25 Sep 2013

Texas Architect Drive-In

The official publication of the Texas Society of Architects weighs in on the Ballroom Marfa Drive-In:

“We hadn’t experienced weather as an object until we lived in Marfa,” said Michael Meredith, AIA, and Hilary Sample, AIA, founders of MOS. “The West Texas landscape naturally recedes into an infinite and scaleless distance, resisting a static sense of location or enclosure.” The design team thus sought a solution that would at once flow into the endless horizon and interrupt it.

Keep reading …

The Awl on our “suitably out-there Ballroom Marfa sort of drive-in”

3 Jul 2013

Anthony Paletta has a lovely essay in The Awl about the history of drive-in movie theaters that starts out with straightforward nostalgia and heartwarming stories about drive-ins using Kickstarter campaigns to stay afloat. And then because it’s The Awl it takes a turn down a more interesting path, looking at the role of drive-ins as “charnel houses for heavy petting,” their openness to imaginative programming, ties to church experiences and as sites of on-screen catharsis.

Robert Schuller, preacher behind Richard Neutra’s Crystal Cathedral and assorted other preacherly activities, held earlier services at a drive-in, advertising “The Orange Church meets in the Orange Drive-In Theater where even the handicapped, hard of hearing, aged and infirm can see and hear the entire service without leaving their family car.”

The cultural imaging of drive-ins on screen has therefore been a bit complicated. James Cagney hides out from the police in the Sun-Val drive in (watching a Gary Cooper movie on the development of aircraft carriers). John Travolta sets up playground equipment in Grease. The central romantic conflict in Coppola’s The Outsiders starts at the drive-in. In Back to the Future III, Marty McFly sets off at the Pohatchee Drive-in (where a marquee hilariously proclaims a program of “Francis in the Navy, Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki, and Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy.” Dead-End-Drive In, a superb Ozploitation film, imagines a dystopian future where distaff youth are confined in a drive-in and subjected to a constant barrage of trash cinema. Imagine putting up an electric fence around Burning Man and you’re partway to a screenshot. These youths, too, understood a thing or two about the drive in.

In the course of charting this history — a sort of companion timeline to the one offered by Lonn Taylor in his recent assessment of Ballroom’s own Drive-In in the Big Bend Sentinel — Paletta also connects the multifaceted drive-in experience of times past with the vision that informs our project out at Vizcaino Park.

Drive-ins were engaged in a constant battle of invention to attract customers before dusk and most importantly, to keep them eating. According to Segrave, nearly 90% of drive-ins had a playground by 1956. Dances would be held prior to screenings. Other carnivalesque enticements flourished; fireworks, petting zoos, and pony rides with the ultimate aim to extract as much concession revenue as possible from the narrow hours of marketable darkness.

Most programming is family-friendly, but frequently more varied than you’d think. Full Moon Drive-In in San Diego is also a spot to catch Driving Miss Daisy, Rebel Without a Cause, and American Psycho. The Admiral Twin in Tulsa reports banner attendance at its Outsiders and Rumble Fish screenings. Marfa, Texas, is getting in on the act with a suitably out-there Ballroom Marfa sort of drive-in.

Keep reading Paletta’s suitably imaginative essay in The Awl. Find out more about the Ballroom Drive-In by visiting the project space adjacent to the gallery here in Marfa, or visit the Drive-In website. Also stay tuned to David Beebe’s Twitter for updates on his own DIY drive-in, next door to the Boyz2Men taco trailer at Airstreamland.