By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Joe Machetta isn't the only member of his family to get hooked on the movie business. For more than fifty years, Machetta's aunt and uncle, Edna and George Kelloff Sr., and their children ran Movie Manor in Monte Vista — the world's only known drive-in movie theater with an attached motel.
"My father and mother actually built Movie Manor," says George Kelloff Jr., who took over the business with his wife, Judy, and sister Susan Miner in the mid-'80s. But the family's involvement in the business dates back much further than that, to the turn of the last century.
"My grandfather and grandmother were in the movie business before there were talkies; they were immigrants from Lebanon, and they came over in the early 1900s, ending up in Aguilar because they had some family there and saw some opportunity for business," says Kelloff. That opportunity would grow to include not just running the Ute Theatre, but also a grocery store and a clothing store in Aguilar.
Like their relative Joe Machetta, George Kelloff Sr. and his siblings all started working at the Ute when they were young. George Sr. fought in World War II, then returned to Aguilar and married Edna. Together they began looking for something they could run on their own — but they didn't stray far from the family business.
After seeing a drive-in theater on their honeymoon, the Kelloffs decided to build one near some family land in Monte Vista. They took their savings, bought their own plot west of town, and opened the Star Drive In Theatre in 1955.
The Star was a success in the summer, but with the cold weather in the San Luis Valley, the drive-in was closed from late fall to the spring. George Kelloff Sr. decided to supplement the family income by building an on-site motel, and the fourteen-room Movie Manor opened in 1964. Every one of the rooms had a Hollywood theme, as well as a four-foot-by-eight-foot picture window that faced the drive-in screen and a speaker that piped in sound at the flip of a switch. Over the years, the family added a second screen, more rooms, a restaurant, an RV park, and a playground at the base of the screens.
But last May, the Kelloff family sold Movie Manor. Mike and Sanje Suthar were looking for an investment, and although the drive-in and motel weren't officially for sale, a mutual friend clued the Suthars in to the possibility that George Jr. and his wife, who were ready to retire from the movie business and wanted to move to Arizona, might let the place go. "A friend asked if I would be interested in buying a property in the countryside — in the San Luis Valley," says Mike Suthar. "I came to Monte Vista and fell in love with Movie Manor at first sight, so we made an offer, and that was it."
Although Suthar wasn't hunting for a theater, he'd grown up watching his father build a movie-theater business from the ground up. That, combined with his own thirty-plus years in the hospitality industry, made Movie Manor a perfect fit. "I was fortunate to find a property that related to what my father had done and what I do," he says. "I couldn't have asked for anything better. I have traveled to 38 states and have lived in Colorado in the past, so I'm very familiar with the state — but I wasn't familiar with the San Luis Valley. It's an absolutely breathtaking place."
His first move after taking over was to extend the drive-in season, running films through November and then starting back up again this past March. The motel, a Best Western, stays open all year. "So far, people love it," Suthar says. "If I would have known about this twenty or thirty years ago, I would have bought this property back then. Right after I purchased Movie Manor, I searched to see if there was any other property like it anywhere else in the world. There is none. We are one of a kind."