THE FIRST DRIVE-IN
An advertisement for the first Drive-In
The first drive-in theater opened on 6 June, 1933 at 2901 Admiral Wilson Boulevard in Camden, New Jersey. It was the invention of Richard M. Hollingshead Jr, who’d began screening films outdoors at his home with a 1928 Kodak projector sat on the roof of his car. He applied for a patent for his “invention” on 16 May, 1933. The feature film shown at his theater was the British comedy, Wives Beware.
The world’s first Drive-In Theater
Before long, drive-ins, or automobile movie theaters, were opening in other states. California‘s first drive-in was the Pico Drive-In at 10850 W. Pico Boulevard, which opened West Los Angeles in September, 1934. It was demolished in 1947 and was replaced by the Picwood Theatre in 1948. The Picwood closed in 1985, was demolished and replaced with the Westside Pavilion — which includes the Landmark Theatre.
The Pico Drive-In
THE RISE OF HOME VIDEO AND DRIVE-INS’ DECLINE
Drive-ins popularity plummeted in the 1970s with the rise of home video’s popularity. Family nights out could now be family nights in for the low price of a rental and some microwave popcorn. Betamax was released in 1975. VHS was introduced in Japan in 1976 and the US in 1977. DiscoVision, a precursor to LaserDisc, was introduced in 1978. Our family got our first VCR in 1978, coincidentally the last year the family went to the drive-in that I remember (Rocky at the Circle 25 Drive-In in Lexington, Kentucky — demolished in 1982).
DRIVE-INS TODAY – CALIFORNIA LOVE
The HiWay, SoCal’s oldest functioning drive-in
Devil’s Night Drive-In is sort of an improvised drive-in/outdoor screening that takes place in a downtown parking garage at 240 W 4th St and screens mostly ’80s movies to car-goers, bike-goers and people seated on a patch of astroturf. On 28 October, 2012 it is scheduled to relaunch as Electric Dusk Drive-In.
The HiWay Drive-In opened in Santa Maria in 1959. Today it’s the only remaining drive-in in Santa Barbara County.
The Mission Drive-In opened in Montclair in 1956 as a single screen. The original screen was demolished and replaced by four smaller screens in 1975. It was later re-named The Mission Tiki Drive-In.
The Rubidoux Drive-In opened in Riverside in 1948, with a single screen and amusement park rides thrown in. In 1983, two more screens were added.
The Santa Fe Springs Drive-In opened in 1950 in Santa Fe Springs as the La Mirada Drive-In. In 1965, they added a permanent swap meet – now a common feature at drive-ins. In 1990, in fact, the screen went dark except for rare, special occasions but the swap meet continues.
The Santee Drive-In Theatre opened in Santee in 1958 as a single screen drive-in. Around 1964, a second screen was added.
The Skyline Drive-In opened in 1966 in Barstow and went dark in 1987. In 1996, it re-opened as a single screen and has since added a second.
Smith’s Ranch Drive-In opened in 29 Palms in 1954 and has a pretty small (330 car) capacity.
The Sunset Drive-In opened in San Luis Obispo in 1950 as a single-screen theater and remains largely unchanged today.
The Van Buren Drive-In Theatre opened in 1964 in the historic Arlington neighborhood in Riverside.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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