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From the Driveway to the Drive-In

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by Barbara Briggs Ward

From the Driveway to the Drive-In

You might not recognize the name but your life most likely has been influenced by the ingenuity of Camden, New Jersey’s Richard Hollingshead, Jr. who in May, 1933 received his patent and in June opened the first drive-in theater. Drive-in theaters quickly spread across the country.

You can thank Mr. Hollingshead’s experimenting with various projection and sound techniques in his driveway for paving the way to those magical getaway places called drive-ins. Using a 1928 Kodak projector mounted on the hood of his car aimed at a screen secured to trees, he worked out any logistical problems to ensure all cars would have a full view of the big screen. Sound, he decided, would be delivered to each car by a single speaker attached to the driver’s window.

The popularity of the outdoor theaters soared from the late ‘50’s to the mid ‘60’s. Hollingshead’s hook was, “The whole family’s welcome regardless of how noisy the children are.” But while the theaters offered cheap family entertainment, they also offered a certain amount of privacy for teens, allowing making out in the back seat the main reason for going to the drive-in. Of course you could get in the front seat too if you had a column shift. Bucket seats caused a major problem.

Besides affording teens a place to be alone while surrounded by others, most drive-in theaters included a building-more often than not-a cement block type-where greasy hamburgers and hotdogs and French fries were made available along with cold sodas and popcorn. The smell of the food being grilled spread out over the area, making you hungry even if you weren’t. Usually there were two features with time in between to get your food and get in eaten and get in the back seat before the next movie began.

In their peak, the number of drive-in theaters reached close to five thousand. But due to the cost of real estate, the popularity of videos and walk-in theaters the number of drive-ins has drastically reduced to less than five hundred.
Nowadays those of us who were young teens watching movies from the back seat of our hot car and are now senior citizens, it’s important to know that today’s streamlined, walk-in theaters offer several movies at a discount for those over fifty-five. However such deals are not normally advertised. One way to find out what you can save is to go to Plug in your city, state and zip code. Locate the theater you’d like to go to. It will list the required age for a senior discount and the amount that will be taken off the regular price of a movie ticket. If you don’t have access to a computer, inquire at the theater. Remember they are usually unadvertised. And though you won’t be seeing Frankie Avalon or Annette Funicello, let’s face it. Back then, you probably didn’t go to the drive-in to see them either or to enjoy the movies or even the greasy food. Now you can. So enjoy!

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