Yesterday was the day that drive-in theaters were first created in of all places — New Jersey. They were originally referred to as “park-in theaters” and the first one was created by a gentlemen by the name of Richard Hollingshead. He was a sales manager at his father’s auto parts store in Camden, New Jersey and an avid movie fan. After several attempts at trying to make movies and motor vehicles compatible, the young Hollingshead mounted a Kodak projector on the hood of his car, mounted a screen on a nearby tree and used a radio behind the screen for sound. His idea was patented in May 1933 and one month and $30,000 later, his idea became reality – the first drive in theater was created.
The drive-in theater was wildly popular in the 1950s and 1960s and waned in popularity thereafter. At one time, it is reported that there were over 5,000 drive-in theaters in the United States and now there are approximately 500 that still remain open.
I have very distinct memories of traveling to the Route 303 drive-in located just over the border in Rockland County when I was younger. On a warm summer evening, my brother, sister and I along with our parents would pile into the station wagon, the pre-cursor to today’s SUV or minivan and drive the 25 or so minutes to the drive-in. We would get to leave the house in our pajamas with our toys, blankets and pillows. There was always the stop at the deli in Northvale to get salads and cold cuts for sandwiches. I remember specifically that my parents would park right in front of the deli so that they could leave us in the car while they went inside to get the goodies. There was an incline and I being the worrywart that I was at my young age, would panic that the car was going to tip over. My sister would love to take advantage of this totally ridiculous fear and purposely sit on the “downhill” side of the car, bouncing around just enough to give my young self a near heart attack, fearing that our car would flip over and we would all die. In later years, driving by that same deli and the “hill” in front that I was so darn afraid of, made me laugh. It was not nearly as ominous as the imagination of a 9 or 10 year-old made it out to be and absolutely no danger of anything rolling down that hill, much less tipping over while parked on it.
After securing our goodies, there was the short trip to the actual theater. There, we would drive on up to the entrance and pay our fee to get in and then enter the seemingly “immense” parking area with its cool playground and refreshment stand. Sometimes, if we were good, during intermission, we were allowed to do both – play in the playground and also get a special treat from the refreshment stand.
Here are some pictures of that drive-in theater that was such a big part of my early memories.
- The Drive-In Movie Theater Photography Project (gadling.com)
- Going soon, a drive-in theater near you (carolynahyankee.wordpress.com)
- Drive-in movies turn 80, but their days may be numbered (toddpack.com)