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Friday, June 7, 2013

Drive-In Theaters 80th Anniversary

A Care-free time

A big part of history for our generation was the Drive-In Theaters. It’s hard for me to believe that it was invented and patented in the early 1930 by the executive of a large chemical company in Camden New Jersey.

The drive-in's peak popularity came in the late 1950s and early 1960s, particularly in rural areas, with some 4,000 drive-ins spread 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 is more limited than regular theaters since showings can only begin 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 dusk to dawn movies, as a way to offset declining patronage and revenue. -Wikipedia
Back in the early 70’s I leased and operated a drive-in theater (capacity 325 vehicles).  I got into it because I saw an opportunity when I took the family to see a dusk to dawn showing of 5 western features.  The cost on a Thursday night was $5 per car load (unfortunately there were only 7 cars that night).  When I went to the snack bar, I talked to the owner/operator, and asked him how he could afford to stay in business.  He replied that the weekends were much better, but that he would gladly get out of it, if he could.  I wrote down his information, and promised to get back to him within a week.

The very next day, I contacted Spanish film distributors in San Antonio, Texas, and Los Angeles, CA.  I was able to negotiate with the drive-in owner for a three year lease with option to renew for up to 5 years ($250 monthly).  Operated weekends only $5 dollar car load every night (two movie features), and turned the snack bar into a Mexican Food restaurant take out only.  Customers arrived early because we sold out regularly (we had to hire parking attendants and security to assist customers).  The first weekend the snack bar sold out each night (grocery stores closed early, couldn’t re-supply), and ended by selling popcorn, hot dogs and soda.

I reckon I have better memories than most people about the drive-ins.  Back in those early years for me anyway, going to an indoor theater was an option and definitely not the first option.  Indoor theaters were nothing like todays multi-plexes.  Especially in small town America, theaters were two hundred or less capacity, and subject to indoor climate control or lack of.  Going to an in-door theater was an event, you had to get all dressed up, whereas you could go straight from work to the drive-in (no-one to impress). Definitely fond memories of a time gone by.  I’ll bet if you dwell on it for a moment you will appreciate the history.  The best is yet to come…

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