Family night at the drive in
Photo by Hagerty.com

The year is 1933 in Camden, New Jersey. Movie fan Richard Hollingshead just mounted a Kodak projector to the hood of his car parked in the driveway. Next, he reaches for a screen to pin between two trees before he places a radio behind it. Frustrated that his mother couldn’t get comfortable in traditional movie theater seats, Richard was determined to find a way for her to watch a film from her car.

A few minor modifications and a patent later, Richard’s project led to the design of the nostalgic, outdoor cinema experience we all remember so well… the drive-in! 

The end of WWII and The Great Depression, meant families were reunited and celebrating. While money was difficult to come by as Americans got back to work, the drive-in was affordable entertainment for the whole family. At just .25 cents per car, folks could enjoy classics like Gone With The Wind, King Kong, The Wizard of Oz, and Dracula

drive in movie theaters
Photos from Stephens City Drive in Facebook and Blue Fox Facebook

More than 100 years later, in small towns across the nation, friends, families, and neighbors still carry on Richard’s vision that movies are best enjoyed under the stars. The drive-in atmosphere remains the same. The smell of funnel cakes and fresh popcorn from the concession stand fill the air, folks find a comfortable place to snuggle up in a blanket with those they love, and settle in to watch the double feature.

One of the largest was the All-Weather Drive-In of Copiague, New York, which featured parking space for 2,500 cars, a kid’s playground and a full-service restaurant, all on a 28-acre lot.

Today, the mix of young and old lining up on the side of the road at sunset continues to rise. (many with grandkids, a date, or the family dog in tow!).  While there may only be fewer than 350 drive-ins left in America, theater owners nationwide are funding the upgrades for stronger bulbs and digital projectors hoping to keep the gates open for generations to come.

 
 
 

 

21 Comments

21 thoughts on “Small Town Cinema: A Night At The Drive-In”

  1. LAETITIA BALL

    No drive-in’s left in South Africa unfortunately. Your piece revived some very good memories as my late husband and I did some serious courting there fifty years ago and enjoyed our car picnics with the resultant offspring. Keep doing what you’re doing – reviving the good things of the past. Your knowledge is astounding.

  2. Connie

    In Piedmont, Missouri, there is still a drive in theatre that is open in the late spring through late summer months. Many people who camp at Sam A Baker State Park make a trip to the drive in part of their camping experience. Check it out!

  3. Steve

    Mike we still have a drive in here in Denver, ita just a couple miles up the road. Hope that we can save more as it is a good memory of times gone by

  4. Double D

    We still have one in McHenry, IL. Saved last year and upgraded to digital. Was always known as “The Finger Bowl” to us locals. You can figure it out.

  5. Mike Hall

    I remember going to the drive in when I was a kid and playing on the playground during intermission. As a teenager taking my date and all of the fun things involved with that. As an adult in the mid 80’s I became a theatre manager and operated drive ins around the great state of Iowa. To the concession stand for a ice cold cherry coke, the smell of hot buttered popcorn permeated the air. And yes The sounds of honking cars and car speakers crackling throughout the lot. Oh the memories. Bring them back!!!!

  6. Robert Vashaw

    I live in Commerce City Colorado it’s in Denver metro. We have the 88 drive-in on 88th Ave. and Rosemary. It’s still open and shows a really good movies.
    The Denver Merchandise Mart on I 25 and 58th Ave. north of downtown Denver just installed a drive-in movie theater screen in a huge parking lot and they have been showing drive-in movies all summer.
    We must be lucky.

  7. charles mcgee

    The drive in was actually invented near Philadelphia in Camden NJ, surprisingly at the time the novelty of it wore off within 18 months and the original builder sold the property at a loss but the new owner added play areas, more rest rooms and a full scale restaurant and made great success. Interesting less than a 1/4 of a mile away was a car roller coaster that was basically a car with it’s wheels confined to a rail system on a roller coaster layout ( very dangerous ). We still have several drive-in’s near Philadelphia left my personal favorite is in Orwigsburg pa north of Allentown pa, it has been there since 1938 and literally nothing has changed, single screen but now in car audio via fm transmitter.

  8. Judith j. Eisenbacher

    Hi, there was a drive in put up near Sp. Lake , Ia a few years back and it was soooo neat to see as I grew up in the era of drive ins and car hops that put the little trays with food on your car’s door, kids played outside until the noon or 6pm town whistle’s blew to tell you to get home for dinner or supper. Life was simple, generally safer /less complicated with LOTS of great memories!!!! 🙂 My daughter, grandkids and I just visited your site at Le Claire two weekends ago so can cross that off of my ‘bucket’ list!!!!! HA..

  9. Kathleen Sawicki

    Many fond memories of drive-ins in Chicago Area – Starlight, Bel-Air and Double…and who in their lifetime hasn’t at least once driven off at the end, forgetting to take the speaker out of the car window!

  10. Bryan Ilyankoff

    The Blue Fox Drive-In is just south of Oak Harbor, Washington off of Highway 20. There is no such place as “Well Harbor”. Please fix that in your blog. The Blue Fox is a fantastic drive-in which is open year-round and features good-old drive-in food. I definitely would recommend that drive-in even If you are out of town.

  11. David D.

    I really like your show watch it all the time.. I give your article a five star review, very informative and interesting… I live close to your Nashville Tennessee store live in Bowling Green KY home of Corvettes also close to Mammoth Cave…But haven’t made it to your store but I am sure I will… Keep up the good work, stay as you are, friendly, kind, helping,and just a great personality…. And care Mike Hope that our paths cross soon, I would really like to meet you??

    1. Sarah Buckholtz Post Author

      Hey neighbor! We hope to see you in person at the Nashville shop soon. Try to come see the place all decorated for the holidays! You never when Mike will be hanging out, so take and chance and come pick!

  12. Jackie Steinbock

    Mike,
    While you’re in the Pacific NW, come by the little town of Shelton and check out our drive-in. Still up and running.

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