Revitalized Frontier Drive In
will showcase art and the Valley


story by clopez |
photos by Ryan Michelle Scavo

LUKE Falcone is standing inside the concession stand talking about the upcoming opening of the new Frontier Drive In – or is it Drive Inn – off Highway 285 near the town of Center, when a visitor wants to know why?

“Well,” he begins, “we purchased the site back in 2016, I believe. It’s a family project between myself, my sister, Sonia Falcone, my father, Mark Falcone, and his wife, Ellen Bruss.”

Mark Falcone, the CEO of Continuum Partners in Denver and one-time chair of the Colorado Chapter of the Nature Conservancy Board, has been making trips into the Valley with his family since Luke was a boy. He was instrumental during his time as board chair to gaining protection of the Zapata Ranch at the Great Sand Dunes National Park, among other significant landscapes in Colorado. In Denver he and his real estate development firm are recognized for the development of Union Station.

“The reason that we ended up here in the Valley is kind of twofold,” Luke said. “One is, my dad had a big connection to the Valley when he served on the Nature Conservancy Board, and he was on that board when they purchased the Zapata Ranch. So when we were kids, we were coming out here all the time because he had just kind of really fallen in love with the Valley.

The Valley Pod logo


Luke Falcone talks more about his plans.

“And the reason that we ended up on the (Frontier) drive in itself is actually thanks to Adam.”

Adam is Adam Gildar, another set of brains around the art and film and community aspect of the Frontier Drive In.

Luke Falcone, left, and Adam Gildar at the remodeled snack bar. Luke Falcone, left, and Adam Gildar at the remodeled snack bar.

OR again, is it Drive-Inn? Because unlike the old days when carloads of families or couples and friends would drive to Center to take in the latest drive-in movie, this version of the Frontier is different. Way different.

For starters it’s not a traditional drive-in movie theater, obviously. Rather, it’s a place to stay for the night, or the weekend, and enjoy the quietness and solitude of the property, soak in the sauna tubs, and appreciate the agricultural nature of the surroundings. 

The movies on the big screen we’ll get to later.

Guest yurts encircle a fire pit. Luke Falcone checks the new digital projector. Guest yurts encircle a fire pit. Luke Falcone checks the new digital projector.

GILDAR arrived in the Valley around 2014 to scout locations for a film that an artist from Mexico City had in mind. “An experimental film actually in the Sand Dunes,” Gildar said, picking up the story. “But we couldn’t get the permit.”

Instead he heard about an abandoned drive-in movie theater, and once he saw the old Frontier Drive In, dilapidated and collecting tumbleweeds, he saw the potential both for the experimental film which was completed and then for something more 21st century.

“I came out here and I fell in love with the site,” said Gildar. “It just seemed like a place that had a lot of potential, and there was also something really beautiful in the decay that was already here.”

Realizing the property was for sale and relying on his background as an art curator and residency programmer for artists, Gildar hit upon the idea that he and the Falcone Family are now bringing to reality.

“What could something like this be in a 21st-century context that evolves what a drive-in is?” Gildar said. “And so I thought, ‘Wow, this could be a great space to do some creative projects’ and really think about that screen as even more than just a platform for showing films, but also a place for experimentation in different media. And then I threw it out there to Luke’s dad.”

The Frontier Drive In will open this summer with 14 guest rooms, which are split between two yurt pods with five yurts each and a communal bath, and then two steel master buildings, which each hold two-unit suites.

Because Ellen Bruss, Mark Falcone’s wife, is involved, and she’s a brand designer with exquisite taste, the Frontier stands out for its materials and finishes that make it feel like a venture into artsy Marfa, Texas, rather than potato-rich Center and Rio Grande County of the San Luis Valley.

Two viewers in lawn chairs watch the drive-in screen

A community event, scheduled for June 25, is being organized by a committee of residents from Center and Saguache to give the new Frontier Drive In a grand lift off. Plans include a Valley-wide chili cookoff, music, and the screening of a movie selected by students from Center High School and the committee of community folks. The June event will be a good time for Valley locals to come around and get a look of the new Frontier. 

“One of the things that Mark and the family bring to the table is their great experience, not only development, but in hospitality,” Gildar said. “They’ve done a great job of bringing some really wonderful buildings to the site and accommodations for people so that this is now a drive-in with two n’s (inn), where you’re staying overnight and people will come in and this will be a destination or gateway into the Valley.”

Luke Falcone said the idea isn’t for guests to travel in and stay their entire time at the Frontier. Rather, the Falcones hope that guests use it as a base to venture out to neighboring attractions in the San Luis Valley and the surrounding region.

The plan is to also eventually allow for limited overnight camping and to continue to meet the demand for rooms as tourists and visitors come through and discover the hip new Frontier.

As for the movies to be shown, Gildar said guests won’t find the latest blockbuster releases. “What people can expect that are staying here is that there will be screenings of films that’ll be repertory films,” he said. “We’re going to be showing the classics. And also, stranger fare.”

“In addition to that,” he said, “we’re really interested in our local audience. And so also opening up the space to have public screenings and community events as well that will be geared toward folks in the Valley.”

“The Valley, in terms of Colorado, is still a somewhat undiscovered gem, and we want this to be a way to share that in a way that we feel is appropriate.”

– Luke Falcone

THERE’S one more artist involved in the project, a pretty big name, and that’s Ron Rael of Conejos, who is professor and Eva Li Memorial Chair of Architecture at the University of California-Berkeley.

Rael, through all his genius, is creating an area of spa tubs made from his adobe 3D printing as part of the Frontier Drive In experience. 

“Many roads led to Ron,” said Gilder of Rael’s participation in the project. Rael had been hanging around his stomping grounds in Conejos during the COVID period of 2021, mostly doing local projects in his native San Luis Valley.

“I’d heard about him and was just fascinated that here’s this internationally-renowned architect who’s from the Valley and decided to come back to the Valley, and he was just the first person on my wish list of, if I could work with somebody on a project, he’s it,” Gildar said.

Rael’s project is called “The Mud Frontiers” and his 3D-printed adobe spa tubs will add another artistic element and calling card to the property.

“The Valley, in terms of Colorado, is still a somewhat undiscovered gem, and we want this to be a way to share that in a way that we feel is appropriate,” said Luke Falcone.

“My experience coming here,” said Gildar, “is you get sort of one, let’s say, hook in you that gets you coming back, but there’s so much to see in the Valley, and a lot of it’s not necessarily apparent unless you spend time here and stop and explore.

“And so that’s what we’re really hoping people do and really fall in love with the Valley in the way that we have.”

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