The Frontier Drive-Inn Is the San Luis Valley’s New Star of the Show

Driving down Highway 285 in the San Luis Valley, most likely on your way to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, you would have passed the abandoned Frontier Drive-Inn. Blink twice and you might have missed it, but now with new owners and a newly renovated neon sign, you are sure to make this a stop on your road trip.

Located just outside Center, CO, the Frontier Drive-Inn originally opened in 1955, providing a connection between the remote San Luis Valley and global cultural production. After closing in 1985, the property stood vacant for 37 years. The cinematic gem has since been bought and reimagined as a hospitality destination, reopening as the Frontier Drive-Inn.

303 Magazine, Jessica Hughes, Frontier Drive-Inn, Ronald Rael, San Luis Valley, Center Colorado, Black Cube Nomadic Museum, Continuum Partners, Harvest Festival

The restored Frontier Drive-Inn sign. Photo provided by Frontier Drive-Inn.

The Frontier Drive-Inn is a Continuued Project, a spin-off of 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 his children, Sonya Falcone and Luke Falcone, who are overseeing 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 the larger cities on the Front Range to become better connected to the communities and the residents of not only the San Luis Valley but other rural areas across Colorado.”

Designed by T38 Studio, the Frontier Drive-Inn draws inspiration from the surrounding San Luis Valley landscape and was designed as an experiment in prefabrication and architectural innovation, exploring new parameters of hospitality design. The site is organized in circles that mirror the millions of acres of agricultural plots that surround it, and the facilities build upon standard high alpine construction, such as yurts and Quonset huts. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Meant to inspire community and connectivity with others, much of the accommodations are clustered together around common areas. The renovations feature 14 thoughtfully designed accommodations, including four single-room hotel suites located inside insulated Steelmaster sheds with a queen-size bed, Parachute linens and mattress, full private bath, coffee maker and microwave as well as in-floor heating, plus a semi-private patio with views of either the Sangre de Cristo mountain range or the movie screen.

303 Magazine, Jessica Hughes, Frontier Drive-Inn, Ronald Rael, San Luis Valley, Center Colorado, Black Cube Nomadic Museum, Continuum Partners, Harvest Festival

A cluster of yurts to create community and a comfortable place to stay. Photo provided by Frontier Drive-Inn.

Clustered together around two large outdoor firepits are 10 single-room yurts with queen-size bed configurations, Parachute linens and mattress, pellet stove, ceiling fan and skylight, plus access to shared bathroom facilities.

For food, guests will be able to take full advantage of the Frontier’s original snack bar which has been renovated to include a chef’s kitchen and seating for 25 people. Connecting food and agriculture is an essential part of the experience at the Frontier so guests are invited to check out kitchen supplies and bring their own groceries to cook their own meals. 

Discover the stars of cinema on the big screen while sitting under a blanket of stars for a unique film experience. But don’t expect to take in the flicks from your car as the drive-in is more like a sit-in. A large patch of perfectly manicured grass provides theater seating where guests can bring blankets and chairs for comfortable viewing pleasure. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But the star of the show is the iconic main screen that sits front and center. The fully restored screen reclaims the property’s cinematic heritage with its thematic repertory film program with one-night screenings that combine past and present. Guests will enjoy a mix of classics, cult and independent films, art house and experimental cinema, foreign movies, special debut screenings and popular blockbusters. 

In addition to movies, there will be cultural programming and art installations headed up by program director, Adam Gildar. “The ethos of the Frontier Drive-Inn is to connect the past with today’s contemporary technology,” Gildar said. So, their current art project is working with Berkley, Calif.-based artist Ronald Rael. Combining indigenous building materials with cutting-edge technologies, recently pioneering the process of printing 3D adobe structures that connect earth to sky. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“The Mud Frontiers” is a structure with eight chambers that is open-roofed so guests can enjoy the stunning San Luis Valley night sky. A central soaking tub features views of the stars as well as the Frontier’s signature film screen. “These will be the largest 3D printed adobe structures in the world when complete,” Gildar said. 

But perhaps the most vibrant and most apparent upgrade made is the restoration of the neon sign that stands at the entrance. With new neon added from Morry’s Neon in Denver, its bright colors and dancing lights make it the beacon of the drive-in. 

303 Magazine, Jessica Hughes, Frontier Drive-Inn, Ronald Rael, San Luis Valley, Center Colorado, Black Cube Nomadic Museum, Continuum Partners, Harvest Festival

The restored vintage neon sign greets guests at the entrance. Photo provided by Frontier Drive-Inn.

But don’t just 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. He 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 in proximity to many recreational opportunities within the region, including the Sand Dunes National Park, Wolf Creek Ski Area, Penitente Canyon and the Rio Grande River. Plus many nearby hot springs such as the Hooper Hot Springs and Joyful Journey Hot Springs offer post-adventure relaxation.

Join them on September 30 to October 2, 2022, for their latest event, the Harvest Festival. Partnering with Denver’s Black Cube Nomadic Museum, Dish SLV and the San Luis Valley Food Coalition, expect artful and agriculture experiences unique to the valley.

For more information about the Frontier Drive-Inn or to book your stay, visit frontierdriveinn.com