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Abingdon’s Moonlite gets landmark designation

Join me for a drive from Bristol to Abingdon down in Southwest Virginia. We’ll avoid Interstate 81 and choose old Lee Highway instead.

Past the building that a guy made into a church by putting a steeple on an old auto-parts store. Past the mom-and-pop motels from the 1950s. Past the Wal-Mart and other big boxes near the Bristol city line.

Once we’re in Washington County, we might start to see some farms and not a few cows. Then just past Dixie Pottery, where you can find just about anything, there’s something you don’t see too often anymore: A drive-in – the Moonlite Theatre, unmistakable for the silvery tower that rises up with the neon sign featuring the moon and stars. (Photo above from the Moonlite Web site).

There are only eight drive-ins still operating in Virginia, and the Moonlite is one of them. They have first-run stuff, too – for example, there’s a double feature this weekend of “Ocean’s 13” at 9 p.m. and the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” flick at 11:00.

Yesterday, the Bristol Herald Courier reports, two state advisory boards approved adding the Moonlite to the Virginia Landmarks Register; they will recommend it for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. The landmark designation will make the Moonlite eligible for tax credits and help its owner, a guy named William Booker, to complete the restoration of the premises. If approved for the national designation, the Moonlite would become just the third drive-in on that list.

If you’re planning to go, a few details: Admission is five bucks a person, with kids under 12 free. Plenty of food, including popcorn and Papa John’s pizza, is available. And don’t worry about having to put one of those tinny, clunky speakers on your car window. The sound is now broadcast on a low-band FM frequency you can pick up on your radio.

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