Historic drive-in for sale

Published 2:06 am Sunday, September 27, 2009

For Sale: A slice of Americana with an extra large soda pop and a bucket of popcorn on the side.

Yes, Hattiesburg’s own piece of history and one of the Mississippi’s most endangered places — The Beverly Drive-In — is still looking for a buyer.

The drive-in, including more than 12 acres of land, is listed at $1,068,000 and has been on the market since 2007. The commercial property can either be restored or developed.

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“I get calls every week,” said Susan Smith, with Keller Williams Realty. “People are very interested, but we just haven’t found the right person.”

Opened on May 29, 1948, the Beverly Drive-In was the second drive-in theater in Mississippi then. The owners, Herby and Sue Hargroder, managed the drive-in for more than 30 years. It closed in 1987 after Herby Hargroder’s death.

In 2001, the Beverly Drive-In reopened under Jim Norton and Barbara Suick and thrived until Hurricane Katrina caused extensive damage which forced its closure in August 2005, according to cinematrasures.org, a Web site interested in covering theater info and preservation attempts.

“We cleaned up after the storm,” said Dr. Suzette Hargroder, owner of Veterinary Associates and daughter of the original owners of Beverly Drive-In. “The cleanup was around $20,000. And since the trees and mess didn’t strike the building itself, it wasn’t covered by insurance.”

It was a tough decision for Hargroder, but with a destroyed roof, wind and water damage to the interiors, increasing property taxes and no income coming in from the drive-in, she decided to let it go.

“There was insurance coverage on the building, but nowhere near what we needed,” Hargroder said. “Estimates on the roof alone were at least $60,000.”

In its heyday, the Beverly Drive-In was the weekend destination for many residents.

“I grew up going to the Beverly Drive-In,” said Robert St. John, owner of the Purple Parrot Cafe, Crescent City Grill and the Mahogany Bar. “Everyone who lived here before 1979 probably went to the Beverly.”

His wife, Jill, said she would often take her young children to the drive-in when Disney movies were shown.

“I wish someone would (restore it),” she said.

In 2008, the Beverly was placed on the list of the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in Mississippi by the Mississippi Heritage Trust. Other sites featured on the lists have included the King Edward Hotel in Jackson, the Moore Fire Tower in Forest and the Tivoli Hotel in Biloxi.

“Rehabilitation of (the Beverly Drive-in) structures could be roughly $250,000,” said Russell Archer, review and compliance assistant at Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

“However, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History gives financial incentives through state and federal means, as well as a Hurricane Katrina related grant. We’re really interested in seeing the Beverly preserved and restored as a drive-in.”

According to Archer, Guntown Drive-In and Iuka Drive-In, both in the northern part of the state, are the only drive-ins in Mississippi that are still in operation.

“I went to an ARC event (when the Beverly was only open for special events),” said Archer, who grew up in Hattiesburg. “It was an opportunity to show my friends that we had a drive-in in town. And we had a fantastic time.”

Seeing the theater in disrepair is heartbreaking for Hargroder.

“It was a very tough decision to let it go,” she said.

“This is something you want to protect. Most of the calls we’ve received are from people interested in reopening it for nostalgic purposes.”