Still Standing: Five Classic American Drive-Ins



July 09, 2013

Before IMAX, before eight-dollar tubs of popcorn and cramped multiplex seating, the drive-in theatre was king. Drive-in movies saw their heyday in the 1950s, a couple of decades after the first opened in 1933 in Camden, New Jersey, but many drive-ins have stood the test of time. Here are five of America’s oldest that are still going strong.

Shankweiler’s Drive-In Theatre
Orefield, Pennsylvania
www.shankweilers.com

Shankweiler's Drive-In Theatre

Hotel and restaurant owner Wilson Shankweiler opened Pennsylvania's first drive-in theatre on April 15, 1934. Only the second one in the country, Shankweiler’s Drive-In featured silent films in its early years and a concession stand where hot dogs and candy sold for a nickel. Just an hour’s drive from Philly, Shankweiler’s was rebuilt after Hurricane Diane leveled the screen and projection booth in 1955. It now stands as the oldest drive-in in the country.

Bengies Drive-In Theatre
Baltimore, Maryland
www.bengies.com 

Bengies Drive-In Theatre

Good movies, affordable admission prices, and concessions that don’t break the bank are all hallmarks of Bengies drive-in theatre. After 57 years in business, Bengies has seemingly perfected the formula for staying alive in the movie theatre business. Bengies is home to the biggest silver screen in America (52’ x 120’), a snack bar straight out of the 1950s, and triple-movie features all for a general admission of less than 10 bucks.

Hi-Way Drive-In Theatre
Carsonville, Michigan
www.thehiwaydrivein.com

Hi-Way Drive-In Theatre

The Hi-Way is not the biggest drive-in theatre left in Michigan. (That distinction goes to the five-screen Ford-Wyoming in Dearborn.) But of the 10 still standing in the state, it’s definitely the oldest. First lit back in 1948 and just a one- or two-hour drive from most areas in metro Detroit, Hi-Way Drive-In double features new-release movies from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre
Wellfleet, Massachusetts
www.wellfleetcinemas.com

Wellfleet Drive-In Theatre

From the onsite playground to the 18-hole mini-golf course, the grounds of the Wellfleet Drive-In are all about good old-fashioned family fun. Built in 1957, this nostalgic Cape Cod theatre features first-run films during the summer months on a huge 100’ x 44’ screen. Movie sound is provided by tuning in on an FM station or, for those looking for a true old-time, drive-in-movie-theatre vibe, one of the authentic silver squawk boxes.

Route 66 Drive-In Theatre
Carthage, Missouri
www.66drivein.com

Route 66 Drive-In Theatre

Opened in 1949, four years before local television came to the Joplin-Springfield area, Route 66 Drive-In managed to stay in business even after America’s most popular highway was essentially closed. The drive-in did shut down in 1985, but was then renovated and reopened in 1998 and continues to show first-run movies from its location on old Route 66.

 

Comments

  1. Jimmy Grizzard Orlando, Florida

    The Fun-Lan Drive In Theatre opened January 10, 1950. They are located at 2302 E Hillsborough Ave. in Tampa Florida.

  2. Mike Grant Vancouver, WA

    I think you forgot the 99W Drive-In located in Newberg, OR. Heart of some of Oregons best wine country. It opend in 1953 and is still open today.

  3. Steve Hamilton, ON.

    We had 3 Drive-in's when I was a kid back in the 60's. The Hamilton Drive-in (Long gone, replaced by houses). The Clappison Drive-in, (Same fate) and the Starlight Drive-in which is still in operation and now has 2 more screens added. The Drive-in theater is such a great place to go on a warm summer night. They have Cruise-in nights in the summer. Everyone brings their muscle cars and hot-rods. Great time! A lot of grerat memories.....

  4. Dan Jurado Denver, Colorado

    You forgot at least one, - The East 88 in Commerce City, Colorado 88th Ave. and Rosemary St. http://www.88drivein.com/88_Drive-In_Theatre/Welcome.html Thanks, Dan

  5. John Fenrich Owasso, OK

    You left off one of the most iconic drive-in movies in the U.S. -- the Admiral Twin in Tulsa, OK. Built out of wood in 1951 as a single screen theater named the Modernaire, a second screen was added back-to-back in 1952 and the name was changed to Admiral Twin (it is located just north of Tulsa's Admiral St.) It was a big hit for Tulsans and everyone traveling on Old Route 66. In September of 2010 the all wood structure caught fire and burned to the ground. Fans of the landmark rallied and donated more than $30,000 to help the owners secure a bank loan to rebuild. It reopened as an all steel structure in June of 2012 and is usually packed every night from Spring into Fall. (if you are interested I can e-mail you JPEG photos of the Admiral Twin as it burned and how it looks today)

  6. Bruce Spence Tulsa, Oklahoma

    Dont forget about the Come back of the Admiral Twin Drive-In, 7355 E. Easton St., Tulsa, OK 74115 , 1951 - opened 1952 - 2nd screen added, 1952 - name changed to Admiral Twin Burned to the Ground Sept 2, 2010 and reopened this year.

  7. Ranco Racing Middle River MD

    I grew up and still live within a mile or so from Bengies Drive-In. A lot of fun times there.

  8. Matthew Wichita, KS

    Also there's the Starlite here in Wichita. http://www.starlitefun.com/

  9. jimmie roan san antonio tx

    the old mission drive in theater here in san Antonio opened In 1948 and closed about the same time the others withered away, but was reopened again around 2007 for a while, it still stands and is being restored as a historic site, I think I read that some old classic movies may be shown at times but that it will not be operated as a regular theater. it's a shame for all the drive inns to have been lost to this generation, not all memories are good ones for all, especially the parents of teenage girls, but they were cheap and provided a place to hang out and enjoy a little fun without the dangers of clubs.

  10. Mike Thomas Atlanta Georgia

    The Starlight 6 is still standing on Moreland Ave. in S.E. Atlanta. http://www.panoramio.com/photo/9043503

  11. Donald J. Dobbins West Lafayette, Ohio

    Also a nice Drive-in about 20 miles south of Canton,, Ohio just off I 77. The Lynn Drive-in is located in Strasburg, Ohio! A great place that brings back the memories!!

  12. randall marsden Janesville,Wi

    any drive in theatres in wi

  13. Tom Johnson Mahomet, IL

    The Harvest Moon Drive-In in Gibson City, Illinois, first opened on July 9, 1954. In the 1980's they installed a second screen. New digital projectors were installed before opening for the 2013 season.

  14. Bruce Pearson Las Cruces, NM

    Considering the importance of the car culture in California, I was surprised that not a single one of the five oldest drive-ins is in the Golden State -- or in Arizona either. I fondly remember the San Val near Burbank, back in the late 1940's. There were lots of drive-ins in both Calif. and Arizona back in those days. Thanks for the article!

  15. CL Turcotte Bryan,Texas

    As a youngster growing up in Pasadena Texas I worked at the "Pasadena Drive In Theater",my older brother worked at our rival,"the Red Bluff".It was a great job for a kid in a great time to grow up in.I worked in the concession stand while my brother was the ticket boy at the other drive in.I remember his stories of how people would try to sneak their friends in,in the trunk of the car.I also remember the great amount of mosquito repellent that we sold.However no hardship such as that kept the folks from coming out on a Friday or Saturday nite for a good movie.Pop corn was 10 cents and cold drinks were 25-35-45. Hamburgers were a whopping 85 cents for a double.We still have a few drive ins here in Texas.My nephew and I went to one a while back in his hot rod,took me back to a time in life when things were simple and folks were happier.I think the drive in theater had a lot to contribute to the American way of life.Im 68 now and while my youth has fled,my memory of those good old days is still sharp.....by the way I still drive a 1935 Chevy three window coupe streetrod.

  16. Bob Koceja Racine,WI

    Kenosha drive-in Kenosha, WI. will be closing after this summers season.

  17. Craige Keen Waterford, Michigan

    In Michigan, before graduating from Walled Lake High School in 1962, our gang almost always went to the Commerce Drive-In at the south end of Union Lake Rd at Richardson Road where a few of us could always sneak in from Newman Rd. In those days in Michigan, we had our pick in Oakland County from the Blue Sky on Perry Street, the Miracle Mile on Telegraph Rd and the Pontiac Drive-In on Dixie Hwy all in Pontiac, or the Waterford Drive-In on Williams Lake Rd in Waterford. They were all within 15 minutes from each other but each one had it's own ambiance. There were fond memories and a few embarrassing moments, like borrowing your dad's '57 Dodge and accidentally turning on the interior dome light and not knowing how to turn it off until you dropped off your date at her parent's home and not being able to kiss her goodnight with her parent's watching you through their front window. Another thing was forgetting to reinstall the engine air-cleaner before your dad took it to work the next morning. What stories will our kids be telling 40 years from now?

  18. Duane Hewitt Michigan

    The Getty Drive In, Muskegon, Michigan

  19. Murlene Lewis OK CITY, OK

    Ok City has one drive in theater left named THEWINCHESTER.

  20. C. Haagenson Santa Monica, CA

    Warwick NY has a 3 screen drive-in, located at the corner of Warwick Turnpike & Route 94.,just behind the Shoprite grocery store. Wonderful farm like hills surround it and great food at the farm across the road!

  21. Richard Reinstein Vermont

    You missed the best one!! Sunset Drive-in in Colchester, VT boasts 4 screens and 8 movie choices each night--all for $7.50 apiece. People come from all over New England. Plus, they are currently building a 12 room motel right on the property to serve all those coming from out of town! Check out the website. You can find it on Google.

  22. Mike J. Pensacola

    Using Goggle Maps, I looked up the Fun-Lan and can see it clearly. Saw their website and Google reviews. Google suggests similar business nearby and lists the Ruskin Family Drive-In (http://www.ruskinfamilydrivein.com) which has new movies also. Therefore two classic drive-ins in Florida could have been mentioned in this article. Cheers!

  23. bill young wardenerd@yahoo.com

    Jesup Drivein Jesup Georgia. Sells out Thursday thru Sunday year round. First Run Movies and lots of truck bed watching.

  24. Mark Connecticut

    The Pleasant Valley Drive-In located in Pleasant Valley, a rural village of Barkhamsted in NW Connecticut is still operating. I remember going there as a kid in the '70s when it was called Roger's Corner Drive-In. We used to sneak in through the woods at the back of the parking field to catch the "adult" movies that ran late night. I'm not sure when it opened but based on the age of the projection equipment, I'd say it's been around a while. Step into the projection building and you are deafened by the roar of the engines of the 2 arc welders which are the source of the light that illuminates the lenses for the ancient projectors. The distance between the welding tips have to be frequently adjusted during the movie to keep the brightness of the light consistent (not an easy task). Switching film reels during the movie with this equipment is also a tricky endeavor. My wife's uncle (in his late/mid 70s) runs the equipment, probably because he is the only one who still knows how. He has had to fabricate parts due to the age and obsolesence of the equipment. The stuff has to be WWII era - it's a trip to watch it function. Grass parking field, no Dolby surround sound and a small screen but the Pleasant Valley Drive-In is a true, old-skool experience. Load the family and the dogs into the bed of your pickup truck, back into a slot under the stars and enjoy a trip back in time. I, for one, am glad this slice of Americana is still alive in my neck of the woods.

  25. Betty Varney NH

    NH still has 3 drive in theaters locations are Laconia, Milford and Woodsville, NH

  26. Bernie Moses Northern Virginia

    Steven City near Winchester Virginia. The Family Drive-In Theatre opened on June 14, 1956. They are the only drive-in theatre left in Northern Virginia and the DC Metro area. http://www.thefamilydriveintheatre.com/index.html

  27. David Earl tahlequah oklahoma

    Don't forget the Admiral Twin in Tulsa , Oklahoma. It was used in The Outsiders and still going strong.

  28. Dirk Fenner Melvin, MI

    Just went to the Hi-Way Drive in over the fourth of July weekend saw Monsters University and Man of Steel. My kids love the Drive in and can't wait to go again. Definitely a family experience better than the regular theater..

  29. Frank Leesville, SC

    Check out the "Big Mo" in the small rural town of Monetta, SC (http://www.thebigmo.com). It's been in operation since April 1951. There used to be many drive-in theatres in the area, but most have closed down. Being out "in the middle of nowhere" has let the Big Mo survive, no urban sprawl out there! The location made for hard times in the 80s, and it was closed from 86-99, but it was revived in 2000 and people come from miles away to relive a little nostalgia. They show first run movies, two for $7 (each person)!! Many only stay for the first movie, but you pay the same to see one or both. It's still fun -- a little hot in July and August though!

  30. Larry Linton Broken Arrow, Ok

    The Admiral Twin Drive-In in Tulsa, Ok was also was used in the making of the movie "The Outsiders". Several scenes were done at the drive in.

  31. Gene Mottt Pavilion, NY

    There is a drive in near me in Perry, NY called the Charcoal Corrall. It has twin screens and has a Cruise Night every Thursday and a Super Cruisre on the third Thursday of each month.

  32. jojo farmingdale nj

    theres one left in jersey vineland nj i think.

  33. chris haworth DETROIT MI

    fort and whyoming 94 and Michigan ave has a driveinn with 10 screens I drive my 1968 ford xl there all the time !!!!!!!

  34. Steve Wild Ann Arbor, MI

    While I'm excited to learn about the "Hi Way" in Caseville, MI, I can't imagine it's any better than the "Capri" drive-in in Coldwater, MI. The Capri is fanstastic.

  35. G-Man Milford, CT

    Southington Drive-In in Southington CT still operates on weekends in the summer months.

  36. Todd Appel St. Louis, MO

    The Skyview Drive-In in Belleville, IL is still open just outside of Saint Louis.

  37. wm. barr Franklin NC

    We were on vacation a few years ago in Colorado. We happened upon a unique drive-in. Its called Movie Manor Motor Inn in Monte Vista Col. We were looking for a motel and saw their sign. It was a great experience. We enjoyed the movies and a good nights sleep for about 80.00 dollars. I don't remember the price for just viewing the movies in your car.

  38. CJ Hitt LeFlore Co., eastern Okla.

    The Tower Drive-in is in Poteau, Oklahoma, which is in eastern Oklahoma about 25 miles from Ft. Smith, Arkansas. I don't know how old the drive-in is, but the owners also have a triple-screen indoor theatre which keeps the drive-in afloat. They also just made the investment for digital equipment, to be able to show the new movies. The landscape behind the screen is pine trees and what is claimed to be the "world's highest hill" on the western edge of Poteau, pretty view at sunset, waiting for the movie to start. I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, location of the afore mentioned Admiral Twin and several other drive-ins. Lots of experiences and memories going to movies with my parents and siblings in the '50's, and as a teenager in the '60's, but listening on the FM radio is definitely better than the old squawk boxes.

  39. C T Barry Kansas City

    The Boulevard Drive In located in Kansas City Kansas - same owner for 55 years!

  40. Rich Cochran Spring Hill Florida

    There were two drive-ins in my hometown of Marion Indiana. One was the Hi-Way Drive In and the other was called the Marionaire. Those were the best of times.

  41. Lee M. Bart Spring Hill, FL

    @ C. Haagenson, yes the Warwick drive-in on rt94, it's still around. There's another drive in in Orange Cty, NY the Fair Oaks, also a triple screen between Middletown and Bloomingburg just off the Quickway. Unfortunately, the Marlboro DI north of Newburgh was torn down after being vacant for many years :(

  42. Floyd Bolde Poughkeepsie, NY

    We have two Drive Inns still operating in this area.One is the Overlook Drive- In Theatre at 126 Degarmo Rd. Poughkeepsie, NY. The other is the Hyde Park Drive In Theatre at 4114 Albany Rd. (Route 9) in Hyde Park, NY. When I was a kid in the early 50's we attended both Drive In's.

  43. Jim Blett West Michigan

    Loved the comment "Another thing was forgetting to reinstall the engine air-cleaner before your dad took it to work the next morning". That one got me my first 'grounding'. Back in the day at the Beltline Drive-In we would park far enough back to take two spaces, then bring a speaker in each side of the car for "stereo".

  44. Sam Set MA

    Northfield Drive-In, Northfield, MA and was also in the movie, Cider House Rules.