What a great idea to establish a place where people could park their cars, enjoy a meal, and watch a movie outdoors and at the same time expose more automobiles to the American public. This is exactly what a young innovative American man did. |
After experimenting with the idea for several years, on June 6, 1933, Richard Hollingshead opened the first Drive-In theater in Camden, N.J. People paid 25 cents per car, as well as, 25 cents per person to see the British comedy Wives Beware, under the stars.
The second Drive-In, Shankweiler's, which is the oldest continuously operated Drive-In theater in America, started a year later in Orefields, Pa. A few others followed, but the concept didn't really get traction until the advent of in-car speakers in the early 1940s. By 1958, the number of drive-ins peaked at 4,063 and carried on in popularity into the 1960s. The baby boom after World War II was accredited as one of the major reasons the concept of Drive-In theaters was so successful in the beginning years.
Drive-Ins offered flexible family entertainment where people could sit in their cars in their own environment, bring their babies in pajamas, and even smoke if they desired.
As popular as Drive-Ins were with the public, it was much harder to make profits. Where a walk-In theater could show one movie several times per day, the Drive-Ins could only show a movie after dark, usually a double feature. As land prices began to increase in the 60s, it was harder for owners to expand, mostly being owned by mom and pop businesses, so to keep profits up they made other uses of the Drive-Ins during daylight hours, such as flea markets, churches, car shows, etc. The introduction of daylight savings time did not help the business of Drive-Ins because of the late time the first feature started. Many families with small children quit going because of this.
The major theater companies chose not to get involved in the Drive-Ins because of small profit margins. Also, it was hard to get Class A movies at Drive-Ins, due to less exposure to new films, therefore, Drive-Ins usually showed B movies, and movies that Walk-In theaters would not show.
One of the largest Drive-In Theaters was the 28 acre, All-Weather Drive-In, in Copiague, New York, which had 2500 parking spaces for cars, a heated and air-conditioned indoor 1,200 seat viewing area, a playground, a cafeteria, a restaurant with full dinners, and a shuttle train that took customers from their cars to the various areas.
On June 3, 1948, Edward Brown, Junior opened the first theater for cars and small planes in Asbury Park, New Jersey, which had the capacity for 500 cars and 25 airplanes. An airfield was placed next to the drive-In and planes would taxi to the last row of the theater. When the movies were over, Brown provided a tow for the planes to be brought back to the airfield.
Today, there are some 400 Drive-In theaters that remain in the United States, way down form the peak years of over 4000. However, a new interest in the American Drive-In theater has emerged in the United States with today’s technology where the sound comes through the car FM radio. If you have never been a part of American History, and visited a Drive-In theater, you should do it, you’ll be glad you did. Vintage Jammer
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