Where Was the First Drive-In Theater? - Drive-In Vacations, Law Suits and Film Clips
American Drive-In Movies
My city has only one drive-in theater left in operation, but we used to have at least one in all directions in Franklin County, Ohio with additional locations to the west between Columbus and Springfield and to the north between Columbus and Delaware.
We even had a few in the more central neighborhoods of Columbus as late as the early 1980s. Many people miss them!
Today, we have one commercial two-screen drive-in theater on the south side of town and one nonprofit venture on the Near West Side, connected with a church. The second one is in a residential neighborhood and in the spring and summer, people bring their lawn chairs and snacks across the street to enjoy a family movie or religious film.
One cinema that might qualify as a walk-in theater is the screen set up outside the Wexner Arts Center at 15th and High Streets on The Ohio State University main campus each summer. Students and area residents enjoy this one with weekly films and concessions every year.
The year 2012 was the 79th anniversary of the Drive-In Theater, an American invention. However, conflicting information places the first drive-in or park-in cinema in Camden, New Jersey and Orefield Pennsylvania. Let's have a look!
Origins and Lawsuit
For the history of the drive-in theater in Ohio, I went to the OSU arts complex where I enjoy attending the regular independent film festivals held at the Wexner Center; and to the University of Michigan, where I also enjoy visiting.
I found that the Camden, New Jersey theater was the driveway and back yard of the inventor, Richard Hollingshead, Jr., who owned and operated a chemical company. He experimented with a Kodak projector and a screen nailed to his backyard trees and was awarded a patent for the drive-in theater in May, 1933. His is the earliest such patent.
Hollingshead was involved in a law suit called PARK-IN THEATRES, INC. v. LOEW'S DRIVE-IN THEATRES (Source: http://ri.findacase.com/research/wfrmDocViewer.aspx/xq/fac.19470311_0000002.DRI.htm/qx),
The case involved his patent. He was the plaintiff and retained his patent and related rights. This was only one of several law suits, indicating that the invention of the drive-in theater was going to be very big business.
And so it was until the late 1970s, providing over 40 years of entertainment in innovative venues. America and other nations still have operational drive-in cinemas today that are well attended.
Hollingshead called his Drive-In Theater company "Park-In Theatres, Inc." and built a large operation called the Automobile Movie Theatre just over the Camden NJ city line (see map below).
Opening night was June 6, 1934, packed with just under 400 vehicles full of people ready to try the new venue. They watched a second run film (one that would play at our discount or "dollar" theaters today) - Wives Beware (1932) with Adolph Menjou.
The theater operated only until 1936 and moved to Union NJ with the man that purchased the theater from Hollingswood.
First Non-Backyard Drive-In Cinemas:
The Automobile Movie Theater Moved here in 1936.
Weymouth Drive-In was Number Three, but legal action was necessary to enforce a licensing agreement with Hollingshead.
Drive-In Number Four opened too close to Number Three and multiple legal actions took place.
Oldest Drive-In Theater
Interestingly, Shanweiler's website in Pennsylvania, representing the oldest continuous running drive-in, states that over 4,000 such theaters once ran simultaneously in the USA. Pennsylvania still has dozens of them.
You also might be interested in visiting the Drive-In Theatre Museum in Iowa at two locations:
- 1020 N Pennsylvania Ave. Mason City IA 50401
- Cinema 5 at Southbridge Mall: 100 S Federal Ave, Mason City, IA 50401
Rise and Fall of the Drive-In Theater
Drive-In Theater Vacations
An enjoyable vacation is one that takes travelers across routes within a state that feature drive-in theaters. Besides attending movies, visitors can find photo opportunities and visit other attractions connected with some of these theaters. Below are a few of the states that have operating drive-in movies and the cities and towns to visit.
If you happen to see that any of the following Drive-In theaters have closed, or if new ones have opened in these states, please post your information to the Comments thread below. Thanks!
- News in the late 2010s: Wall Drive-In Theatre at Wall Stadium (Wall Township Speedway). Open April to October; 650; 80-foot screen. All the other drive-in theaters in this state are closed.
Trailers Featured Above ^
The She-Creature, Atom Age Vampire, Beast From the Haunted Cave, The Amazing Colossal Man!
Florida's Must-Visit Drive-Ins
- Dade City, Florida -- Cheapest in America. Joy Lan Drive-In at 16414 Highway 301
- Fort Lauderdale -- Largest in America. Thunderbird Drive-In: 954-583-7733; at 3121 West Sunrise Boulevard. This site features 14 different screens, Screen 9 being an original from the opening in 1963, a high Swap Shop flea market, and a circus performing 6 days weekly (circus is dark on Tuesdays). This theater opened on night of the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, November 22, 1963.
- Fort Myers --Northside Drive-In at 2521 North Tamiami Trail. Twin Screens.
- Jacksonville -- Playtime Triple Family Drive-In at 6300 Blanding Boulevard. Playground for the kids.Triple Screens. Flea Market on weekends.
- Lakeland --Silver Moon Drive-In at 4100 Route 92 W/New Tampa Highway
- Lake Worth -- Lake Worth Drive-In at 3438 Lake Worth Road. Flea market on weekends.
- Naples -- Naples Drive-In on East Davis Boulevard. Opened in 1974. Refurbished in the mid-1990s. Doublke features on two screens, weekend flea market, farmers market.
- Ocala -- Ocala Drive-In at 4850 South Pine Avenue/Route 441. Re-opened in 2003. Flae market on weekends.
Ruskin -- Ruskin Drive-In at Theatre at 5011 Highway 41 North. Double features.
- Tampa -- Fun Lan Drive-In at 2302 E. Hillsborough Avenue and 22nd St. Three sets of double features 7 nights a week all year. Weekly specials and a flea market on the weekends.
Michigan Drive-In Theaters
- US 23 Drive-In Theater
The New US 23 Drive-in Theater is a full service operation located in Mundy Township, which features Double-Feature films nightly on 3 giant screens. The drive-In features a recently renovated full service concession stand as well.
- Capri Drive-In Theater | Coldwater MI: They call themselves a Top-10 American Drive-In
- Five Mile Road Theater - 28190 M152, Dowagiac, MI
- Ford Drive-In Dearborn Michigan
- Getty Drive-In: celebrationcinema.com/GettyDriveIn
- Hi-Way Drive-In Web Site: Michigan's oldest outdoor movie theater!
- Sunset Auto Theater - 69017 Red Arrow Highway, Hartford, MI
Ohio's Many Drive-In Cinemas, Alphabetically by City
- Starlite Drive-In -- Amelia, Ohio
- Pymatuning Lake Drive-In -- Andover, Ohio
- Magic City Drive-In -- Barberton, Ohio
- Mayfield Road Drive-In -- Chardon, Ohio
- Melody 49 Twin Drive-In -- Clayton, Ohio
- South Drive-In -- Columbus, Ohio
- Dixie Twin Drive-In -- Dayton, Ohio
- East Bend Twin Drive-In -- Decatur, Ohio
- Melody 49 -- Englewood, Ohio -- Close to Dayton
- Skyborn Drive-In -- Fairborn, Ohio -- Close to Dayton
- Holiday Auto Theatre -- Hamilton, Ohio
- Hi Road Drive-In -- Kenton, Ohio
- Skyview Cruise-In -- Lancaster, Ohio
- Field Of Dreams Drive-In -- Liberty Center, Ohio
- Springmill Twin Drive-In -- Mansfield, Ohio
- Sunset Drive-In -- Mansfield, Ohio
- Starlite Drive-In -- Maria Stein, Ohio -- Near Bethel
- Van-Del Drive-In -- Middle Point, Ohio
- Aut-O Rama Twin Drive-In -- North Ridgeville, Ohio
- Star View Drive-In -- Norwalk, Ohio
- Sundance Kid Drive-In -- Oregon, Ohio
- Midway Twin Drive-In Ravenna, Ohio
- Auto-Vue Drive-In -- Sidney, Ohio
- Melody Cruise-In -- Springfield, Ohio -- Close to Dayton
- Lynn Auto Theatre -- Strasburg, Ohio
- Field Of Dreams Drive-In Theater -- Tiffin, Ohio
- Blue Sky Drive-In -- Wadsworth, Ohio
- Skyway Twin Drive-In -- Warren, Ohio
- Elm Road Triple Drive In Theatre -- Warren, Ohio
- Winter Drive-In Theatre -- Wintersville, Ohio
True Story - In the 1980s, the West Fifth Avenue Drive-In Theater sat in the 900 block of West 5th Avenue in Columbus (Grandview inner suburb). It specialized in quintuple features (5 films) and you'd win a prize of you stayed until morning. The films any night would revolve around a theme - bad horror flicks, nurses, that type of thing. Lots of related premiums and gags accompanied the films.
West 5th Ave had closed and the land sold to a restaurant chain for whom I worked, so I had the fun and privilege of helping to open a new unit. However, the drive-in's washroom holding tanks or sewers underground had never been cleaned out, so a pervading rotten smell proliferated in the parking lot for the life of this restaurant. It was remodeled and rebuilt and the grounds cleaned thoroughly - then reopened as a franchise, without a hint of the odor.
A large modern car wash and upscale apartments stand next door of it to the east. Just to the west is Fortin Ironworks, a long-time successful business and Salon Lofts, which used to be a Mercedes auto dealership after is had been a Rambler dealership for several years. Beyond that is shopping and local attractions in Grandview.
If you're ever in the neighborhood, stop in and ask about the drive-in theater that once stood on the property. The management and crew may know nothing about it!
Pennsylvania Drive-In Film Theaters: Alphabetical by City
- Kane Road Drive-In: 3001 Kane Road; Aliquippa PA and
- Route 6 East; Kane, PA
- Becky’s Drive-In - http://www.beckysdi.com Berlinsville PA
- Moonlite Drive-In Theatre - http://www.lipumatheatres.com Brookville PA
- Malden Drive-In - http://www.malden-drive-in.com Brownsville PA 15417
- Brownsville Drive-In Multi Theaters - http://www.tjent.com/bdi/bdi.php Brownsville PA
- Pioneer Drive-In --vRoute 8 North; Butler PA
- Skyview Twin Drive-In -- Route 88; Carmichaels PA
- Carrolltown Hi-Way Drive-In -- Route 219; Carrolltown PA
- Super 322 Drive-In -- Clearfield PA
- The Comet Drive-In -- Route 119; Connelsville PA
- Dependable Drive-In - http://www.dependabledrivein.com Coraopolis in Moon Township PA
- Corry Drive-In Theatre -- 11510 Route 6; Corry PA
- Point Drive-In Theatre - http://www.pointdrive-in.com Route 11, south of exit 224 on I-80
- Haar's Drive-In - http://www.haars.com/Drivein.htm Near PA Turnpike
- Garden Drive In Theatre - http://www.gardendrivein.com US Route 11; Hunlock Creek PA
- Peninsula Drive-In Theatres -- 303 Peninsula Drive; Erie PA 16505
- Sky Vu Drive IN -- Route 25; Gratz PA
- Laurel Drive-In - http://www.laureldrivein.com Near Hazleton PA
- Silver Drive-In - http://www.johnstownpa.com/silver Johnstown PA
- Palace Garden Drive-in -- 225 Indian Springs Road; Indiana PA
- Hi-Way Drive-In Theatre - http://www.hiwaydriveinlatrobe.com Latrobe PA
- Mahoning Valley Drive-In - http://www.angelatheatre.net/drive-in.htm Lehighton PA
- Port Drive In Theater - http://www.portdrivein.com Linden PA
- Midway Drive-In Theater -- Route 3; Mifflintown PA
- Pike Drive-In Theatre - http://www.pikedi.com Montgomery PA
- Evergreen Drive In Theater - http://www.evergreendrivein.com Mount Pleasant PA
- Motor Vu Drive In Theatre -- Route 93; Nescopeck PA
- Cumberland Drive-In Theatre -- 711 Centerville Road; Newville PA
- Bar Ann Drive-In Theater -- Springhill Road; Portage PA
- Circle Drive-In Theatre & Fair - http://www.circledrivein.com Scranton PA
- Reynolds Drive In - http://www.reynoldsdrivein.com Transfer PA
- Wysox Drive In Theatre -- Route 6; Wysox PA 18854
Near Allentown and Bethlehem: Orefield, Pennsylvania - Shankweiler's Drive-In Theater, Since 1934
Drive-In Theaters on Route 66
- Skyline Drive-In: Barstow, California
- Tee Pee Drive-In: Sapulpa, Oklahoma . Refurbished in 2012.
- Admiral Twin Drive-In: Tulsa, Oklahoma
- 66 Drive-In: Carthage, Missouri
- 19 Drive-In: Cuba, Missouri
- Sky View Drive-In: Litchfield, Illinois
- Route 66 Drive-In: Springfield, Illinois
Along the way, you will find many closed drive-in theaters that include good photographic subjects of buildings, screens and more.
© 2012 Patty Inglish MS