Earlier this summer the very first drive-in movie theater in Camden, N.J. turned 78. Richard M. Hollingshead opened the first drive-in in 1933. It cost 25 cents per person and 25 cents per car to see Wives Beware, starring Adolphe Menjou.
Whether it’s an extension of America’s love affair with cars, the romance of watching a movie beneath a canopy of stars or the chance to take the kids for a night out without fear that they’ll disturb other patrons, at one time the iconic drive-in theater was the source of summertime entertainment. By 1950, the “Automobile Theater”, as it had come to be called, was as much a part of America’s summer as was ice-cream, lemonade and baseball. In the 1950s and 1960s when drive-in movies were all the rage there were 4,000 locations throughout the U.S.
Those roomy, luxury cars of the 1940s and ’50s were a perfect match for the drive-in movie fad. Cars like the Cadillac Coupe Deville, Oldsmobile 88, Lincoln Mark IV, Ford station wagon and the Chevrolet Impala came equipped with sofa-like seats, front and back arm rest, push-button radios, reading lamps, built in ash trays, cigarette lighters, and a huge curved front windshield that allowed passengers a panoramic view of the outdoor screen.
While waiting for the movie to begin, drive-in patrons flashed their car headlights, honked their horns, and streaked their spotlights across the screen in a display of impatience and camaraderie; all part of the Friday night fun at the drive-in movies. The sounds of Buddy Holly, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley echoed from our car radios.
Now almost 80 years later, popularity has decreased reflecting a change in times. A few hundred drive-ins exist today than in their heyday 50 years ago.
The oldest North American drive-in still in business is Shankweiler’s Drive-In Theatre. Located in Orefield, Penn., it has been lighting up the night sky with movies since April 15, 1934. The current double feature: Spy Kids: All The Time In The World and Captain America: The First Avenger.
Penske Automotive Group misses these simple times.