Starlite Drive-In

36.025989, -78.846243

Cross Street
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The Starlite drive-in theater opened in the mid-1940's and operated until ~1961, when it was abandoned.






Abandoned Starlite Theater, mid-1960s







Abandoned Starlite Theater, mid-1960s







Abandoned Starlite Theater, mid-1960s







The Starlite drive-in theater opened in the mid-1940's and operated until ~1961, when it was abandoned.







Abandoned Starlite Theater, mid-1960s






Abandoned Starlite Theater, mid-1960s






Abandoned Starlite Theater, mid-1960s






Abandoned Starlite Theater, mid-1960s


My first experience with the Starlite was ~1990 when I was in college. Much like riding the streetcar to/from school when I was a kid in New Orleans, I didn't appreciate the rare opportunity to enjoy the experience of a previous generation at the time. I was more agog at the combination concession stand / projection room / gun shop - I particularly remember a glass display case with a line of stun guns. I stuck to the hot dogs.

The most recent resuscitation of the theater was due to the efforts of Bob Groves, a native of Cumberland, MD who purchased the Starlite in 1986. It isn't clear if it had been previously revived - one comment alludes to the theater being abandoned from 1961 until the 1970s, so perhaps there was a previous owner who reopened the theater.

Bob was well beloved by many in the community for his "How many you got hiding in the trunk?" greeting and his overall good nature. The Starlite also become a unique experience for Durhamites of the current generation - much like going to a Bulls game for many people, it was often more about sitting outside on a summer night with your friends, some beer, and some hot dogs than it was about the movie.

Bob Groves

Bob Groves at the helm of the Starlite (date unknown), Courtesy of George Stephens



The Starlite was shuttered when it suffered a fire that destroyed the screen in August 2004 , shutting the theater down for a year. A sustained, community-wide fundraising drive garnered enough funds to restore the screen, triggering the re-opening of the theater in August 2005 , albeit without its trademark sign.




starlite new screen.jpeg


New screen going up, 12.05.04
(Courtesy Robby Delius)





starlite new screen2.jpeg


New screen going up, 12.05.04
(Courtesy Robby Delius)

You can still see the list of contributors and donations on the archived Starlite website, where I pulled much of this information from.






Re-opening night, August 2005






Re-opening night, August 2005






Re-opening night, August 2005

The theater would, unfortunately operate for only another year and a half, until March 2007, when its owner, Bob Groves, died suddenly. I've never seen as clear an indication that a place with such character and history stayed open due to the passion of one person, and that person alone. The theater closed immediately after Mr. Groves' death, and was abandoned - picked at by various thieves/souvenir hunters. It was announced that the land was for sale for $1.4 M, a number that put a chill on an initial push by the same people who wanted to try to revive the theater. Rumors, untrue, flew that the site had been sold to Wal-Mart.

The websites all went dark as well in 2008, and the Starlite oh-so-quickly slipped from the collective consciousness of Durham. As of October, 2010, the land was still in Bob Groves' name. The screen that the community all pitched in for has, sadly, been taken down.





starlite 10-08.jpeg


Starlite for sale, October 2008
(Courtesy Robby Delius)





starlite 12-08 screen.jpeg


Screen face Removed, December 2008
(Courtesy Robby Delius)





starlite 4-09.jpeg


Screen totally removed, April 2009
(Courtesy Robby Delius)



















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Ah, sweet memories - and they don't relate to hot dogs or the films! RIP

The Starlight was operating prior to 1986, but I'm not sure how much earlier.


There is a rumor that a vicious
man-ape with rabies and a rusty
old machete now lives in that old Snack Bar.

It was definitely operating before 1986, b/c I remember seeing all the XXX movies it was showing listed in the paper.

Yes, the Starlite, The Forest (formerly Skyview) at oak Grove and the Midway on Old 70 West were all operated by a single communications company in the mid-eighties. Bob Groves worked for that outfit before taking on the Starlite himself.

I enjoyed going back there when Bob operated the place. To my knowledge, the only drive-in theater left in the area is in Henderson.

In the previous post with an aerial photo of Oak Grove, the theater on Wake Forest Hwy is west of the intersection at Mineral Springs about 1/2 mile. It's obvious if you look at the pic. You can see the pie shaped parking lot.


Now that's one sad story. About as sad as "The Rat" closing in Chapel Hill after a couple of saves by well-meaning owners.

I remember going to the Starlight and the Skyvue throughout my childhood, teenager years and even after I was married. The last time I went to Starlight was in the winter with two girlfriends. We were all bundled up in my husband's huge work truck with all our snacks with us and every so often, I would have to start it up to get us warm. A man knocked on our window scaring us all to death about half-way through the show to politely ask me to stop putting my foot on the brakes because they were so bright it made it hard for them to see the screen. There is an assisted living facility where the old Skyvue was - went there more than all the others since I was raised in Oak Grove. Memories

Maybe with the whole Durham Revitalization going on, the town will find a way to rebuild and reopen this venue and make it part of something like Full Frame. It is a shame that the Durham Ball Park and Kings Sandwich shop can be revived but not this place. If the Varsity in Chapel Hill can keep going this should get a new life too.

Went to see "Snakes on a Plane" there with the boyf. We sat in the car with all the windows down and laughing hysterically. It is one of my fondest memories of our years in Durham so far. Thanks for keeping the memory alive.

A sad story, indeed, but the "last hurrah" effort to get the new screen built was worth it anyway. And the Duke's of Hazard opening night show with TWO General Lees was a fantastic night. I'm proud to say that my wife's name is in the second list of names on the "thanks" page (no, she didn't take the "Schpeilluncker" name, Sven). But, I kick myself for not bidding on a neon star that was for sale as part of the fund-raiser. I think it went for $35 or something. My excuse was that my first child was being born, but that's pretty lame considering that we could have had a little star light burning on at our house. If anyone with those two (or three?) stars is selling, I'll bid again... $36!

I believe the Starlight was operating in the late 70's because I think my family and I went there for a double feature of Superman and Star Wars one night - but I can't remember definitely since I was only 5 or 6 then.

There are current signs saying that a flea market will be opened there in April!

I worked at the drive-in (pretty mcuh illegally) for three years in the back popping pop-corn. I think I started when I was only twelve because Mr. Groves was a family friend. I remember painting the characters on the side of the concession area and watching the new screen tower go up. My ex-step-dad still has one of the old stars from the original tower. I miss this so much. I wish someone would buy the land and make it what it's meant to be; The Starlite Drive-in. I could only dream of having the money to do it myself one day. Rest in piece Mr. Groves and Blackie. We miss you so much.

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