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Laurel drive-in theater owners pick up pieces after major fire

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Posted at 6:26 PM, Jun 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-07 20:26:03-04

LAUREL  — After 17 years of showing movies, what remains of the Amusement Park Drive-In screen is rubble. It was destroyed by a fire Monday evening, leaving its owners scrambling to figure out what’s next.

“It hits you hard watching it fall,” said the owner’s daughter, Jenny Cooke, on Tuesday.

Her childhood memories were gone in seconds. The Cooke family built the drive-in back in 2004, when Cooke was 10 years old.

“It was 18 years of our life that burned,” she said.

Cooke says an electrical fire burned the 70-year-old screen down. The family moved it to Laurel from Cody, Wyoming, and says screens like this are all but impossible to insure.

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“The screen is all wood, old wood, inside and I mean it just went up like a candle,” said, Riley Cooke, Jenny's father and the owner of the Amusement Park Drive-In.

Riley Cooke says the Laurel and Billings fire departments poured over 50,000 gallons of water on the screen, but the flames kept growing.

“We got a lot of memories out here,” said Riley Cooke.

Up until Monday, the Cookes had been cleaning up the drive-in to restore her to her former glory. However, the Cookes were unable to insure the screen because of its age, so a reopening will be difficult.

“We’ve been working really hard at cleaning the place up, getting it all fixed back up. And to have this happen without insurance is going to be a setback for us,” said Riley Cooke.

He believes it’ll cost around $300,000 to rebuild the screen and fix damage to the building where the screen fell.

They hope to rebuild but don’t want to feel obligated to do it. So they’re asking the community and their loyal customers to avoid collecting donations.

“I still don’t want the GoFundMe money, I don’t want that. We’ll do it ourselves if we can,” said Riley Cooke.

He just hopes the drive-in gave families as much joy as it gave his own.

“This is our feel-good thing. We love this. We do it as a family, we come out here, we have fun,” said Riley Cooke.

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As for the theater’s historic screen, Riley says there is a silver lining.

“Honestly this one wasn’t very good, 'cuz you could see little lines in the picture,” said Riley Cooke.

It gives him the motivation to rebuild an even better screen.

“If it’s gone at least there’s one good thing: I can do the next one correct 'cuz I sure did the last one wrong,” said Riley Cooke.

Of course, patrons didn’t mind as they were there for the experience, just like the Cooke family hoped.

“It was a family thing from start to finish,” said Jenny Cooke.