Drive-in theaterHull's Drive In Theatre, outside Lexington, Virginia Bass Hill Drive-In Cinema, Sydney, Australia
A drive-in theater is a form of cinema structure consisting of a large screen, a projection booth, a concession stand and a large parking area for automobiles. The screen can be as simple as a wall that is painted white, or it can be a complex steel truss structure with a complex finish. Within this enclosed area, customers can view movies from the privacy and comfort of their cars. Some drive-in theater managers added children's playgrounds between the screen and the first row of cars. Others even went as far as adding miniature railroads, merry-go-rounds, and mini-golf. Concrete patios for lawn chairs were available at some drive-in theaters, as well as indoor seating in the snack bar. Originally, audio was provided by speakers on the screen and later by an individual speaker hung from the window of each car, which would be attached by a wire. This system was superseded by the more economical and less damage-prone method of broadcasting the soundtrack at a low output power on AM or FM Radio to be picked up by a car radio. This method also allows the soundtrack to be picked up in stereo by the audience on an often high fidelity stereo installed in the car instead of monaural through a simple speaker.
- 1 History
- 2 Decline
- 3 Revival
- 4 Concession stand
- 5 Drive-ins in films and paintings
- 6 Drive-in theater songs
- 7 Songs that mention drive-in theaters
- 8 Movies that feature scenes at drive-in theaters
- 9 Video games and arcade games that feature drive-ins
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 Sources
- 13 External links
The drive-in theater was the creation of Camden, New Jersey, chemical company magnate Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr., whose family owned and operated the R.M. Hollingshead Corporation chemical plant in Camden. In 1932, Hollingshead conducted outdoor theater tests in his driveway at 212 Thomas Avenue in Camden. After nailing a screen to trees in his backyard, he set a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his car and put a radio behind the screen, testing different sound levels with his car windows down and up. Blocks under vehicles in the driveway enabled him to determine the size and spacing of ramps so all automobiles could have a clear view of the screen. Following these experiments, he applied August 6, 1932 for a patent of his invention, and he was given U.S. Patent 1,909,537 on May 16, 1933. (Seventeen years later, that patent was declared invalid by the Delaware District Court.)
Hollingshead's drive-in opened in New Jersey June 6, 1933 on Admiral Wilson Boulevard at the Airport Circle in Pennsauken, a short distance from Cooper River Park. He advertised his drive-in theater by saying, "The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are". It only operated for three years, but during that time the concept caught on in other states. The April 15. 1934, opening of Shankweiler's Auto Park in Orefield, Pennsylvania, was followed by Galveston's Drive-In Short Reel Theater (July 5, 1934), the Pico in Los Angeles (September 9, 1934) and the Weymouth Drive-In Theatre in Weymouth, Massachusetts (May 6, 1936). In 1937, three more opened in Ohio, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, with another twelve during 1938 and 1939 in California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Texas and Virginia.
One of the reasons that drive-ins were so popular with families is that it allowed the entire family to go to the movies and not have to hire a baby-sitter or worry that their children would disrupt the entire audience. This became a modern pastime; now the entire family for a per-person cost, the same as a sit down theater, could come and enjoy a movie in the privacy of their own vehicles, children and all. Before the war, there had been approximately 100 major drive-ins nationwide; the drive-in craze began to build very strongly following the end of the Second World War. Many GIs had traveled the country and seen the new and unusual things it had to offer. The drive-in was no exception. Enterprising businessmen realized that this segment of the population could be tapped and spend some of their earnings to enjoy themselves, a date, or an evening with the family.
The drive-in's peak popularity came in the late 1950s and early 1960s, particularly in rural areas, with some 4,000 drive-ins spreading across the United States. Among its advantages was the fact that a family with a baby could take care of their child while watching a movie, while teenagers with access to autos found drive-ins ideal for dates. Revenue was more limited than regular theaters since showings can only start at twilight. There were abortive attempts to create suitable conditions for daylight viewing, such as large tent structures, but nothing viable was developed.
In the 1950s, the greater privacy afforded to patrons gave drive-ins a reputation as immoral, and they were labeled "passion pits" in the media. During the 1970s, some drive-ins changed from family fare to exploitation films. Also, during the 1970s, some drive-ins began to show pornographic movies in less family-centered time slots to bring in extra income. This became a problem because it allowed for censored materials to be available to a wide audience, some for whom viewing was illegal. This also led to concern about the availability and uncontrollability of adult-centered media in the general public.
The drive-in was open to creative abuse, such as the smuggling in of viewers in the trunks of cars to avoid paying for individual tickets.
Many drive-ins devised very elaborate and sometimes quirky modes of comfort. Some drive-ins provided small propane heaters, attempting to entice their patrons to come in colder months. Some drive-ins provided a heating or air-conditioning system via underground ducts to heat or cool patrons, but due to their frequency of becoming homes for rodents, many people actually ended up with a car full of mice instead. Audio systems varied greatly during the era of drive-ins. Some used portable speakers on trucks during the early days but this proved ineffective since the people in the front were blasted with sound while the people in the back could not adequately hear what was being said. One solution came in the form of small speakers which could be hooked onto the sides of the vehicles. These also had issues with quality and did not provide stereo sound. Later still, as in-car stereos became standard equipment, broadcast of the audio track on particular radio frequencies permitted the most efficient means of delivery.
During their height, drive-ins used attention-grabbing gimmicks to entice even more people to become patrons. Some drive-ins installed small runways for their patrons to fly in on. Other drive-ins had strange and unusual attractions such as a small petting zoo or a cage of monkeys for the enthusiasts to come and see. Recognizing the growing importance of pop-culture, many of the larger drive-ins had celebrities come and open their movies at a particular drive-in or invited a particular musical group to come and play before the show. Some drive-ins actually had religious services performed on their grounds on Sunday morning and evening.
Eventually, the economics of real estate made the large property areas increasingly expensive for drive-ins to operate successfully. Land became far too valuable for businesses like drive-ins, which in most cases were summer-only. Widespread adoption of daylight saving time subtracted an hour from outdoor evening viewing time. These changes and the advent of color televisions, VCRs and video rentals led to a sharp decline in the popularity of drive-ins. Business itself with a drive-in was subject to the whim of nature; as inclement weather often caused cancellations. They eventually lapsed into a quasi-novelty status with the remaining handful catering to a generally nostalgic audience, though many drive-ins continue to successfully operate in isolated areas, such as the ones in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island, Washington. Many drive-in movie sites remain, repurposed as storage sites, or sites of flea markets. In fact, the largest drive-in theater in the world, the Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop, doubles as the world's largest daily flea market. However, many of these sites are being converted to higher intensity commercial uses such as the Midway Drive-In near Federal Way, Washington.
2001 marked the inception of the "Do-It-Yourself" Drive-In, which utilized contemporary tools such as LCD projectors and micro-radio transmitters. The first was the Liberation Drive-In in Oakland, California, which sought to reclaim under utilized urban spaces such as vacant parking lots in the downtown area. The following years have seen the rise of the "guerrilla drive-in" movement, in which groups of dedicated individuals orchestrate similar outdoor film and video screenings. Showings are often organized online, and participants meet at specified locations to watch films projected on bridge pillars or warehouses. The content featured at these screenings have frequently been alternative and independent media, cult movies, or otherwise subversive programming. The best known guerilla drive-ins include the Santa Cruz Guerilla Drive-In in Santa Cruz, California, MobMov in San Francisco, California and Hollywood MobMov in Los Angeles, California, and most recently Guerilla Drive-In Victoria in Victoria. The Bell Museum of Natural History in Minneapolis, Minnesota has recently begun summer "bike-ins," inviting only pedestrians or people on bicycles onto the grounds for both live music and movies. In various Canadian cities, including Toronto, Ottawa, and Halifax, al-fresco movies projected on the walls of buildings or temporarily erected screens in parks operate during the Summer and cater to a pedestrian audience.
Concession standSnack bar ad shown at a drive-in.
As with conventional motion picture cinemas, the concession stand, also called a snack bar, is where a drive-in earns most of its profits. As a result, much of a drive-in's promotion is oriented toward the concession stand. The typical snack bar offers any food that can be served quickly, such as hot dogs, pizza, hamburgers, popcorn, soft drinks, candy and french fries.
To send patrons to the concessions stands, trailer advertisements called snipes were projected before the feature and during any intermissions. Now a great source of nostalgia, these concession commercials often featured animated food such as dancing chili dogs and talking boxes of popcorn. These ads were collected in 1993 for a video, Hey Folks, It's Intermission Time (distributed by Something Weird Video), and the 1978 film Grease has a scene in a drive-in showing such an ad during the song "Sandy".
Drive-ins in films and paintings
Released on video, After Sunset: The Life & Times of the Drive-In Theater is a 1995 documentary featuring producer Samuel Z. Arkoff, director John Carpenter and critic Joe Bob Briggs. "Shining Stars: Canada's Drive-In Movie Theatres" (2004) by Sean C. Karow is the definitive documentary on Canadian drive-ins. Drive-in theaters have also been featured as movie locations, notably Peter Bogdanovich's Targets (1968) about a veteran horror film actor (Boris Karloff) making a personal appearance at a drive-in theater while a freeway sniper (Tim O'Kelly), hiding behind the movie screen, prepares to shoot the theater's customers.
"Moments to Remember," a series of paintings by Beaumont, Texas, artist Randy Welborn, includes two paintings of Beaumont drive-ins in the mid-1950s. "Goin' Steady" depicts the Circle Drive-In which opened in 1948, and "A Summer Remembered" shows the South Park Drive-In which opened in 1950. In Welborn's audio slide shows, he explains the photographic research and painting techniques he uses to recapture the past.
Drive-in theater songs
- "Alone At A Drive-In Movie"—Grease soundtrack
- "Drive-In"—Beach Boys
- "Drive-In Movie"—Bob & Justine (of American Bandstand)
- "Drive-In Movie"—Fred Eaglesmith
- "Drive-In Movie"—The Academics
- "Drive-In Romance"—Jimmie R. Vestal
- "Drive-In Show"—Eddie Cochran
- "Jivin' At The Drive-In"—Mark Valentino
- "Kissin' At The Drive-In"—Gary Shelton (Troy Shondell)
- "Pedro & Man At The Drive-Inn"—Cheech & Chong
- "Rain at the Drive-In"—NRBQ
Songs that mention drive-in theaters
- "'57 Chevrolet"—Billie-Joe Spears
- "Alabama Rain"—Jim Croce
- "Bubblepop Electric"—Gwen Stefani
- "Burgers and Fries"—Charley Pride
- "Dream Boy"—Annette Funicello
- "Drive-In Movies & Dashboard Lights"—Nanci Griffith
- "Drive-In Romance"—Jimmie R. Vestal (65 different versions recorded)
- "Drive-In Saturday"—David Bowie
- "I Don't Care if the Sun Don't Shine"—Elvis Presley
- "(Just Like) Romeo & Juliet"—The Reflections
- "Let's Make The Most Of Summer"—Fantastic Baggys
- "The Last Drive-In"—Chris LeDoux
- "Like I Love You"—Edd Byrnes
- "Mister Lonely"—The Videls
- "Moments to Remember"—Four Lads
- "Night Moves"--Bob Segar
- "Old Days"—Chicago
- "Pink Shoelaces"—Dodie Stevens
- "The Promise" — Bruce Springsteen
- "Radio & TV"—Everly Brothers
- "Saturday Night"—The Misfits
- "Summer '79"—The Ataris
- "Summer Job"—Brian Hyland
- "Summer of '69"—Bryan Adams
- "Talk Dirty to Me"—Poison
- "Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days Of Summer"—Nat King Cole
- "Wake Up Little Susie"—Everly Brothers
- "Watching Scotty Grow"—Bobby Goldsboro
- "Your Mama Don't Dance"—Loggins & Messina
- "You Didn't Try To Call Me"—Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
Movies that feature scenes at drive-in theaters
All scenes filmed in real drive-in theaters except where indicated
- American Drive-In 
- Buster and Billie
- Back to the Future Part III (Pohatchee Drive-In—fictitious, propped for the film in Monument Valley, California.)
- Blue Thunder (Pickwick Drive-In in Burbank, California, now gone)
- Cars (Pixar animated feature, chase through drive-in, also depicted in promo trailers.)
- Cecil B. Demented (Bengies Drive In—Baltimore, Maryland, open)
- Dead End Drive-In
- Drive-In 
- The Flamingo Rising (Drive-In constructed at Marineland of Florida—9600 Ocean Shore Boulevard, Marineland, Florida, USA)
- The Flintstones
- Grease (Pickwick Drive-In in Burbank, CA., now gone)
- Lone Star
- The Lords of Flatbush
- The Lost Boys (Skyview Drive In Theater, Santa Cruz, California, now gone)
- Natural Born Killers (Cut scene features lead characters Mickey and Mallory at a drive-in movie after they have sustained snakebites)
- One Crazy Summer
- The Outsiders (Admiral Twin Drive-In in Tulsa, Oklahoma, still in operation)
- Pee Wee's Big Adventure
- Poetic Justice (90's John Singleton drama starring Janet Jackson and Tupac features a shooting in a drive in)
- Puberty Blues
- Red Dawn (Fictional drive-in outside of town turned into a detention center )
- Sivaji (during the car fight scene)
- Ski Party (Victory Drive-In in North Hollywood, California, now gone)
- Spies Like Us (Lancaster Drive-In in Lancaster, California, now gone)
- Sweet Dreams
- Targets (Reseda Drive-in, Reseda CA, now gone)
- Twister (Galaxy Drive-In scene filmed at the Beacon Drive-In in Guthrie, Oklahoma, still in operation)
Video games and arcade games that feature drive-ins
- One level of Destroy All Humans takes place at the Blue Moon Drive-In in the Rockwell stage, where Crypto must show his own film. Actual footage of Plan 9 from Outer Space is seen. Other Drive-Ins can also be found throughout the game, in keeping with the 1950's nostalgia theme.
- A pinball game based on Creature from the Black Lagoon focuses more on the drive-in theatre that features the film rather than the mentioned movie. A player must spell the letters of "FILM", go to a concession stand, go down a slide and kiss his girlfriend before the film will begin.
- A level of the video game Redneck Rampage is entitled "Drive-In", and also features a bowling alley and tornado-infested trailer park which must be fought through before entering the drive-in proper.
- Two maps of Command & Conquer: Generals – Zero Hour contain a drive-in theater (it appears once in the "General's Challenge" campaign, and once in the GLA campaign). The snack bar and ticket booth can be garrisoned by infantry units.
- SimCity 2000 features a drive-in theater as a 'large' (3X3 tiles) commercial building. The screen is visible and displays a picture of a large brown ant.
- A virtually abandoned Drive-In Theatre is located in the game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
- Blacksite: Area 51 has a level prominently featuring a Drive-In Theater.
- In Scarface: The World Is Yours, there is a mission in which you must protect a drive-in theatre from a gang of hooligans. After you finish this mission, you are able to use the drive-in as a front for selling drugs
- Rival Schools: United By Fate features a drive-in theatre stage for the Pacific High School team, with jazzy music as the BGM
See alsoThe Ford-Wyoming Drive-In, the largest operational drive-in in Michigan.
- List of active drive-in theaters
- Australian Open Drive-in Theatres
- Drive-In Classics
- Inflatable movie screen
- ^ Strauss, Robert. " The Drive-In Theater Tries a Comeback; Looking for a Few Hundred Adventurous Moviegoers", The New York Times, July 23, 2004. Accessed March 26, 2008. "The nation's first drive-in theater was built by the Hollingshead family along the tawdry Admiral Wilson Boulevard in Pennsauken, N.J., in 1933."
- ^ "This Month in History", Smithsonian magazine, June, 2003.
- "Drive-in" (2001). The Film Encyclopedia, 4th ed., Ephraim Katz (ed). HarperCollins, New York.
- Don Sanders, Susan Sanders, (October 2003) The American Drive-In Movie Theater. Motorbooks International. ISBN 0-7603-1707-0
- Elizabeth McKeon, Linda Everett, Liz McKeon (December 1998). Cinema Under the Stars: America's Love Affair With the Drive-In Movie Theater. Cumberland House. ISBN 1-58182-002-X.
- Sanders, Don and Susan. Drive-in Movie Memories. Middleton: Carriage House, 2000.
- Sanders, Don and Susan. The American Drive-in Movie Theatre. Osceola: Motorbooks International and Wholesalers, 1997.
- Segrave, Kerry. Drive-in Theaters: a History from Their Inception in 1933. Jefferson: McFarland and Company, Inc., 1992.
- "The Drive-in Theater History Page". Drive in Theater. 20 April 2007.
- Michigandriveins.com - The Premier Site For Michigan's Drive-In History
- Waterwinterwonderland.com - Michigan Drive-In Theater Site
- NBC: "Bringing back the drive-in"
- BBC: "Drive-in theaters refuse to fade away"
- Time Magazine: "Movies that star the stars"
- San Francisco Chronicle: "Reviving drive-in culture"
- "For Drive-In Theaters, an Unexpected Revival", Nancy Mullane, All Things Considered, April 21, 2008.
- Theatre Historical Society of America - official site
- Drive-ins Downunder
- Guide to Drive-in Movie Theatres-Includes locations of surviving Drive-ins in the United States
- Guide for setting up your own outdoor drive-in theater
- United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association
- Victoria Advocate: "Drive-ins making a comeback in Texas"
- Texas & Oklahoma Drive Ins With Photos, Videos, and Vintage Speaker & Equipment Information
- A List of Drive-in Theaters in Canada
- A freely downloadable collection of drive-in intermission advertisements
- Bulletin Board for fans of Mid-Century Modern Architecture and Roadside Buildings including Drive-ins!
- Special FCC permissions at the Drive in
- Carload.com - lists drive-in theaters in Colorado
- Southern California Drive-In Movie Association
- Drive-In Theater
Link former page on this page
Related word on this page