Driving down Hwy 285 through the San Luis Valley, likely heading towards Great Sand Dunes State Park, you would have passed the abandoned Frontier Drive-Inn. Blink twice and you may have missed it, but now, with new owners and a newly refurbished neon sign, you’re sure to make this a stop on your road trip.
Located just outside of Center, CO, the Frontier Drive-Inn opened in 1955, providing a connection between the remote San Luis Valley and global cultural output. After its closure in 1985, the property sat vacant for 37 years. The cinematic gem has since been purchased and reinvented as a hotel destination, reopening as the Frontier Drive-Inn.
The Frontier Drive-Inn is an ongoing project, a spin-off from Denver-based real estate developer Continuum Partners. The Continuued team, which purchased the site in 2016, includes Continuum Partners founder Mark Falcone, his wife, Ellen Bruss, and children, Sonya Falcone and Luke Falcone, who oversee Frontier Drive-Inn.
“Our family has been coming to the San Luis Valley for years and we have a deep personal connection to this land and this community,” said Luke Falcone. “We see the restoration of the frontier as a way for residents of major cities in the Front Range to better connect with communities and residents of not only the San Luis Valley, but also other rural areas of Colorado.”
Designed by T38 Studio, the Frontier Drive-Inn is inspired by the surrounding landscape of the San Luis Valley and was conceived as an experiment in prefabrication and architectural innovation, exploring new parameters of hotel design. The site is organized in circles that mirror the millions of acres of agricultural parcels that surround it, and facilities rely on standard high mountain construction, such as yurts and Quonset huts.
Intended to inspire community and connectedness with others, most accommodations are clustered around common spaces. The renovations include 14 thoughtfully designed guest rooms, including four single-bedroom hotel suites located in insulated Steelmaster sheds with a queen-size bed, Parachute linens and mattress, full private bathroom, coffee maker and oven. microwave as well as underfloor heating, plus a semi-private patio with views of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range or the cinema screen.
Clustered around two large outdoor fire pits are 10 single-bedroom yurts with queen-size bed configurations, Parachute linens and mattresses, pellet stove, ceiling fan and skylight, as well as access to shared bathrooms.
For food, guests can take full advantage of the Frontier’s original snack bar which has been refurbished to include a chef’s kitchen and seating for 25 people. Linking food and agriculture is an essential part of the Frontier experience. Guests are therefore advised to check kitchen supplies and bring their own groceries to cook their own meals.
See movie stars on the big screen seated under a blanket of stars for a unique cinematic experience. But don’t expect to watch the movies from your car as the drive-in is more like a sit-in. A large patch of perfectly manicured grass provides the theater seating where guests can bring blankets and chairs for comfortable viewing enjoyment.
But the star of the show is the iconic main screen that sits front and center. The fully restored screen recovers the property’s cinematic heritage with its thematic program of repertoire films with one-night screenings that combine past and present. Guests will enjoy a mix of classics, cult and independent films, art and experimental cinema, foreign films, special first screenings and popular blockbusters.
In addition to the films, there will be cultural programming and art installations led by program director Adam Gildar. “The philosophy of the Frontier Drive-Inn is to connect the past with the contemporary technology of today,” Gildar said. So their current art project is working with Berkley, CA-based artist Ronald Rael. Combining indigenous building materials with state-of-the-art technologies, he recently pioneered the process of printing 3D adobe structures that connect earth to sky.
“The Mud Frontiers” is a structure with eight rooms with an open roof so that guests can enjoy the beautiful night sky of the San Luis Valley. A central soaking tub offers views of the stars as well as the Frontier’s signature movie screen. “These will be the largest 3D-printed adobe structures in the world when complete,” Gildar said.
But perhaps the most dynamic and apparent upgrade made is the restoration of the neon sign that stands at the entrance. With the new neon added from Morry’s Neon in Denver, its bright colors and dancing lights make it the beacon of the drive-in.
But don’t stop here, get out and explore what the valley has to offer. “We want people to stay here, but DON’T STAY here,” Gildar said. It encourages guests to get out and explore all the valley has to offer. Flanked by the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges, the San Luis Valley is close to many recreational opportunities in the area, including Sand Dune National Park, Wolf Creek Ski Area, Penitente Canyon, and the Rio Grande River. Plus, many nearby hot springs such as Hooper Hot Springs and Joyful Journey Hot Springs provide post-adventure relaxation.
Join them from September 30 to October 2, 2022, for their latest event, the harvest festival. In partnership with Denver’s Black Cube Nomadic Museum, Dish SLV, and the San Luis Valley Food Coalition, expect arts and farming experiences unique to the Valley.
For more information about the Frontier Drive-Inn or to book your stay, visit frontierdriveinn.com