Appreciating all that makes America special

Americana: Drive-in Theaters

The golden era of drive-in theaters was the 1950s and 60s. But the best part of all was the concession stand. Corn dogs! Uploaded by possb.com.

To me, the extinction of drive-in theaters is one of the saddest changes of my lifetime. Regardless of all the technological advances – you can watch a movie now on an iPod in the palm of your hand – the drive-in experience was always great. It didn’t even matter what movie was playing.

I think the last movie I saw at a drive-in was Barbarella with Jane Fonda. Tell me that’s not a quintessential drive-in picture. Probably the most memorable experience (and I don’t even have to disclaim this for a family audience) was seeing the movie Woodstock in 1970. It wasn’t playing in my hometown of Newport News, and the only place around showing it was a drive-in all the way over in Norfolk. So we made the trek over in what seemed at the time like a road trip.

Uploaded by mybestyears.com.

Believe it or not, the drive-in was the brainchild of one man – Richard Hollingshead of Camden, New Jersey. In 1933 he worked out the spacing of cars by trying them out in his driveway, with a sheet on the garage for a screen. That was enough to get a patent, and a craze was born. Within a year the new idea had reached the West Coast.

By the early 60s there were more than 4,000 passion pits, er, drive-ins across America. They were great for dates, and also for parents of young children who could fall asleep in the car. Unfortunately, as real estate grew more expensive and technology improved in regular theaters, drive-ins went into steep decline. A few still remain, however, using modern ideas such as LCD screens and micro-radio transmitters.

One aspect of drive-ins I still remember fondly is the concession stand. While regular theaters were limited to popcorn and candy, you could get “food” at the drive-in. Pizza, hot dogs, corn dogs. All with a great jingle and talking popcorn boxes onscreen to tell you, “Let’s all go to the concession stand…”

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One Comment

  1. Some of my fondest memories with our children and their friends was going to the Bel-Aire Drive-In just a couple miles from home, with the kids in the bed of the truck, blankets spread out, and us in lounge chairs. Those cheeseburgers and chocolate shakes from the concession stand were most delicious. I can almost taste it still….The first movie I remember seeing at a drive-in when I was a child was The Alamo with John Wayne (one of my dad’s favorite actors), with my parents, after dropping my brother off at a school dance.