Family-Owned Melody Drive-In Theatre Celebrates 70 Years In Knox

Photographer: Jayme Goetz

The Melody Drive-in Theatre in Knox has been a staple for the community since its premiere in 1949.

George Banta and Richard Hand were the original owners of the theatre. When it opened, it had one screen. In 1961, Banta and Hand sold the drive-in to Edward and Marguerite Heise, and it has remained in the family’s possession ever since. Nine years later, in 1970, current owners Fred and Louise Heise took over for Fred’s parents.

“I grew up in the business,” Fred explains. “I was 13 or 14 when my dad purchased it, and when I was ready to be married to my wife, my dad had made an offer to us. And so I decided that was a thing we wanted to do.”

Today, their son, Fred, and his wife Natalie are a part of the management team for the drive-in.

“One day, they’ll take over and continue the tradition,” Fred says proudly.

Since taking over, Fred and Louise have made some changes. In 1995, they added in a second lot and now have two screens to show movies on. In 2013, they changed from showing motion picture films to a digital system for sound and projection.

Soon after adding the digital system, though, a tornado struck the area, taking down the drive-in’s main screen.

“On May 31, 2013, a tornado knocked our main screen down, and we had so many family and friends that came in and helped,” Fred says. “We opened back up on July 2, and we had one of our largest weeks ever in the drive-in. That showed that we have the greatest moviegoers on earth.”

It was only natural that the community banded together to support the drive-in. The theatre is considered a tradition for families and vacationers alike. People are drawn to it for its atmosphere. It acts as a place for good, wholesome, family fun. They show mostly family movies but that is not the only thing that creates the environment. There is an area on the property for people to play outside. It is close to the beach, so people can enjoy time there. The long history of the drive-in being family-owned surely affects people. They know it, and have known it, to be a place to come and have fun, and the Heise family knows that.

“It’s a good place for families and couples to come out and enjoy a movie and there’s not a whole lot of drive-in theaters left in America,” he says. “It’s a place for families to come out and enjoy themselves. They play in the yard, and we offer good food. It’s a good place for people from all over, plus, with the lake here, [there are] many vacationers, so it’s a great outlet for folks. It’s not only a form of entertainment, but people can come out and enjoy themselves, and it’s an experience.”

The rarity of a drive-in today is part of what adds charm to the theaters today. At one point in American history, there were more than 4,000 drive-ins registered. Today, there are a little more than 300. There are six states today that have no drive-ins anywhere. Indiana is fortunate enough to have 18.

Besides the family atmosphere and the charm that comes with a drive-in, the food within the concession stand helps to bring people back, too. Recognized for their breadsticks, Melody Drive-In has a huge variety of food for customers to choose from.

“Our biggest seller is breadsticks, believe it or not,” Fred says. “We’re known far and wide for our breadsticks, and we also sell hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, french fries and, of course, popcorn. We just serve good food. It’s made to order, and it’s gone over well here.”

When asked about one of the most memorable moments, Fred goes back to when the tornado took out one of their screens. He explains how much the support of the community meant in their time of need.

“We were so grateful for [our moviegoers],” he says.

Fred and Louise show that gratefulness for the community through giving back. They occasionally give free tickets to organizations to include in fundraisers for those in need, in addition to being involved in organizations like Right to Life. Beginning in 1995, on Sunday mornings, area Lutheran churches use the drive-in to host services.

Melody Drive-In Theatre is open in the summer six days a week. They are closed on Tuesday evenings. Their box office typically opens at 7:00 pm CST on Friday and Saturday nights, and it opens at 7:30 pm CST every other night they are open. The start time of the movie relies on the sunlight, Fred explains, so there is no set time.

“The sun is our clock,” Fred says. “We can’t start until dusk.”

You can visit the Melody Drive-In Theatre at 7705 S. US 35 in Knox. You can also visit them online at melodydrivein.com, or you can give them a call at 574-772-2042 for a recording of the movies playing.