Diamond anniversary of the drive-in theater

TO-DO THIS WEEKEND: Celebrate the 75th anniversary of the drive-in theater with a visit to a drive-in. Take a chair and sit under the stars, buy some popcorn at the snack bar, stay for both features, and try to figure out why you stopped (or never started) going. Don’t complain that no drive-ins are nearby, they can still be found in 47 states.

ABOVE: At the drive-in, 4th of July, 2007 . Photo © by Brian Butko

It was June 6, 1933, when Richard Hollingshead Jr opened the first drive-in theater, lighting the night sky in Camden, New Jersey. By the late 1950s, thousands of “ozoners” sat at the suburban fringe of most every town, but then they began closing. Blame TV, VCRs, smaller cars, fewer family movies, less need for a private getaway, Daylight Savings Time, rising insurance on the playgrounds, aging equipment, retiring owners, skyrocketing land values – or all of them – but only 397 theaters remain (with 650 screens). About half of those are members of the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association, a group that celebrates the industry and its accomplishments. In fact, Hollingshead’s son, Richard III, was guest of honor this past winter at UDITOA annual convention. Here are some drive-ins still operating on or very close to the Lincoln Highway, pulled from the UDITOA list site plus my own recollection – please send additions:


Fort Collins: HOLIDAY TWIN DRIVE-IN – www.holidaytwindrive-in.com

Plymouth: TRI-WAY DRIVE-IN – www.triwaydrivein.com
Valparaiso: 49’er DRIVE-IN – www.49erdrivein.com

Sparks: EL RANCHO DRIVE-IN – www.westwinddriveins.com

Kenton: HI-ROAD DRIVE-IN – www.metheatres.com
between Van Wert and Delphos: Van-Del Drive-In

Mansfield: SPRINGMILL DRIVE-IN – www.springmilldrive-in.com


Riverdale: MOTOR VU DRIVE-IN (4 screens)


This list will now be available as one of the easy-reference pages listed to the right. Check there for updates.

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3 Responses to “Diamond anniversary of the drive-in theater”

  1. RoadDog Says:

    We are fortunate to have one still operating in McHenry, Illinois. It costs $7 for a current double feature this year, up from $6 last year.

    We like to make a retro night out of it, visiting a Dog n’ Suds in nearby Ingleside for some of those great Coney Dogs (with onions of course) and frosty mug of root beer, and of course, the curb service. We take 32 ouncers to-go for the theater.

    We then drive the eight miles over to the McHenry Outdoor and enjoy the movies, if we can stay awake for the second feature.

    Now, that’s RETRO for ‘Ya. –RoadDog

  2. John Renock Says:

    My wife and I just drove past this one returning to Galion from Mansfield on Ohio 309 aka Lincoln Highway. They show first run movies.
    That makes two in Richland County Ohio.

    I was told one of the first drive-ins in the country was the one I went to as a youngster in the old ’41 Pontiac, the Family Drive-In Theater in Lower Burrell, PA. The area is now occupied by a strip mall. Don’t know if the story is true, but I sure remember what a treat to go to the driven-in, then in later years scrunched into the trunk of a car with a couple other teens…first movie I remember seeing at the Family was “African Queen”.

  3. Olivia Tejeda Says:

    Great post! Since childhood I have always been lucky enough to live near drive-in theaters. Now living near Phoenix Arizona, there are two within easy driving distance. The Glendale 9 Drive In and the Scottsdale 6. Both are part of the West Wind Theater chain. http://www.westwinddriveins.com/directions/

    It’s always a fun night, whether it’s a good movie or not!

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