It all began with a film projector on the hood of a car showing images on a bed sheet hung between two trees. Richard Hollingshead went on to perfect this apparatus, and the world's first drive-in cinema under the stars opened to the public in Camden, New Jersey, on June 6, 1933. By the late 1950s, there were more than 4,000 drive-ins - and why not? They lured patrons with the promise of no parking problems and free baby-bottle warming.
Today, there are about 400 drive-ins still open for business. While Hollingshead's theater is long gone, drive-ins across the country continue to honor his memory each June with Hollingshead Day events. If it's a moonlight movie you're after, here are some of the noteworthy establishments keeping the tradition alive and well.
Becky's Drive-In, Berlinsville, PAThis family-run operation opened for business way back in 1946, says Cindy Deppe, the second-generation owner. Her dad started the theater by having folks watch silent films from benches. Today, Becky's has an 80 x 50-foot screen and spots for 450 cars (pets are welcome), and it's open every night from April to September. Adults pay $6, children under 13 are $3, and children under three get in free.
Pony rides, hayrides, and a petting zoo are just some of the extras that round out your night at the movies. Family films like The Flintstones, Independence Day, and Shrek are the most popular, Deppe points out. Recent movies included 13 Going on 30 and Shrek 2.
If you've got the munchies, get your wallet out. The well-stocked refreshment stand features burgers, pierogies, onion rings, funnel cakes, and fried Oreos - plus fresh French fries using spuds from Johnson's Potato Farm in nearby Orefield. If you get chilly, you can purchase a Becky's stadium blanket ($35). Get there early, tune in the theater on your FM radio, and you'll hear the national anthem played before the first feature. (beckysdi.com)
The Thunderbird Drive-In, Fort Lauderdale, FLSkip the crowds at Walt Disney World and check out the state's No. 2 attraction. Claiming to be the country's largest drive-in, this theater boasts 14 screens and has room for 3,000 cars. Nicknamed the Swap-Shop Drive-In because of its famous flea market held each weekend - 800 vendors on 88 acres! - the Thunderbird is open year round, seven days a week. But that's not all. There's also a full-fledged circus with clowns, elephants, and trampoline acts - performances occur several times daily. Seats are $2 per person. For movies, adults are $3.50 and children under 11 are free. Recent films included 50 First Dates, Mean Girls, and The Whole Ten Yards. The theater complex holds a distinct place in history as well. It opened on November 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. (floridaswapshop.com)
The Silver Lake Twin Drive-In, Perry, NYIn its earliest incarnation, there was one screen in a cow pasture. Today, this Western New York venue includes an amusement park, video arcade, 18 holes of golf, and a roadhouse-style restaurant called the Charcoal Corral. Admission to the movies is $5 for adults and $2 for kids under 10. (charcoalcorral.com)
The Ford-Wyoming Drive-In, Dearborn, MIThis is Motor City territory, so you'd certainly be within your rights to expect a drive-in. But this nine-screen, 3,000-car complex, which opened in 1950 with a single screen, goes one better - it's open year-round. Ah, you wonder, what about those frosty winter nights? Not to worry. The theater generously provides a car heater along with the speaker you'll need to hear the movie's soundtrack. Gates open at 8 p.m. during the summer. Adults are $7.75, children are $1.50, and seniors are free.
The Brazos Drive-In, Gransbury, TXThey don't just do the Texas two-step for fun in these parts - they also go to the drive-in. At the Brazos , movies are shown every weekend from March 1 to December 1, starting at dusk. It's $9 per adult or $18 per carload. Bring your dog for the evening, too, as long as it's on a leash. The films are family oriented, with G, PG, and PG-13 movies (shown in that order), and you can pick up the stereo sound on your car's FM radio. Recent features included Ella Enchanted and Home on the Range. The concession stand is stocked with fare that will satisfy any junk-food junkie, including burgers, fries, popcorn, nachos, hot dogs, corn dogs, chili dogs, and candy. (thebrazos.com)
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