Pheasant City Drive-In celebrates 70th anniversary

Published: May. 19, 2023 at 5:14 PM CDT
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ABERDEEN, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - While there are only 300 drive-in movie theaters left in the U.S., one South Dakota drive-in is celebrating a big milestone, with no plans to slow down.

If you’ve ever passed through Redfield on Highway 281, you likely saw the Pheasant City Drive-In. What you might not have known, however, is that there are seventy years of history behind that screen.

The Pheasant City Drive-In was built in 1953 by Dan Peterson, who owned the State Theatre Company of Brookings. Ownership of the drive-in changed a few times throughout the 1960s until Tom and Letha Gallup purchased the drive-in in 1972. The Gallups owned the drive-in for 42 years.

Stacey and Dave Marlow were both born in Redfield. They have been married for 38 years, and they remember plenty of date nights at the Pheasant City Drive-In.

”We’re into classic cars, and Sunday nights were our date nights that we’d come out here and we would have pizza and popcorn and enjoy the movie,” said Dave.

That’s why when the opportunity arose, the Marlows jumped at the chance to purchase the drive-in from the Gallups in 2014.

”We just enjoyed coming here, and we wanted to keep it going. I mentioned it to her one time, I said, ‘I’d like to buy the drive-in’ and she said, ‘Sure,’ and here we are,” said Dave.

The Marlows have preserved a lot of the history of the drive-in, like the concession stands, the original popcorn machine, and the 137 speakers that line the parking spots of the drive-in.

In a world of changing technology, however, they have made some upgrades to keep up with the times.

”We started out with digital ten years ago, and we upgraded to laser about two years ago. It’s just a much better picture and a lot more dependable,” said Dave.

The Marlows purchased the Pheasant City Drive-In alongside Stacey’s parents, Clark and Rosa Davis. On top of being full-time farmers, the Marlows are at the drive-in every weekend from May through August.

The hours are long and the work is hard, but preserving a beloved piece of their community’s history makes it all worth it.

”We put a lot of work in here. We’re usually out here at 5 o’clock, before the movie starts, and it’s probably 1 o’clock when we leave. It gets kind of old, and then, somebody will come up and say, ‘Geez, it’s sure great that you guys keep the drive-in going.’ It just makes it so much easier for us,” said Dave.

The Marlows say in the future, they hope to pass the drive-in along to someone who cares about it just as much as they do.

”I mean, it’s not a money maker, but it’s the drive-in. It’s part of who we are. I just hope somebody comes along that would just love to keep the drive-in going, and we’ll be there to help them,” said Dave.

When asked what their favorite part of owning the drive-in is, the Marlow’s answers were simple:

”I like to see the families that get to come out here all together, because it’s a happy place,” said Stacey.

“Me? I like to see good movies,” said Dave.

Events will be held all summer long to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Pheasant City Drive-In, but this weekend, Super Mario Bros. will be playing Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. Ticket booth opens at 7 p.m. and the movie begins at dusk.