Where have all the drive-ins gone?
SAN FRANCISCO, CA — This San Francisco Chronicle article looks back at the Bay Area drive-in landscape that once was.
At least 35 drive-in theaters have operated in Bay Area history. With the Skyview Drive-In on the edge of Santa Cruz closing last year to make room for a medical facility, now there are only two.
In the interest of nostalgia, and to look for the ghosts of drive-ins past, we found the addresses and drove to many of the sites of former drive-ins to see what’s there now. Research also included frequent visits to the sites Cinematreasures.org, Cinematour.com and Drive-ins.com. Of the 35 Bay Area drive-ins that we could confirm existed, most have been replaced by retail space, industrial parks or housing developments. But drive-in land has also been turned into a waterslide parking lot, part of a college campus and a BART station.
In addition to reminiscing, the piece also discusses how today’s economic climate might facilitate a return of demand for such an operation.
(Thanks to Dalboz17 for providing the photo.)
In the seventies, I had the option of visiting many Drive-Ins in my local area. Some of these were: the Norwalk Drive-In in Norwalk, the Candelite-Pix in Bridgeport, the Milford Drive-In in Milford, the Bowl Drive-In in New Haven, and more. I was not married at the time. My wife had access to several Drive-Ins in the opposite part of Connecticut. All these are sadly gone, most with no reminders that they ever existed except for the memories of those who were there. There is a Drive-In worth visiting in Conencticut that still stands-the Pleasant Valley Drive-In in the Barkhamsted-New Hartford area. However, due to the inhibitive prices of gas, I suspect most of the customers are locals.
The closest drive-in near me is the Warwick Drive-In, one of only a few in the New York Metro Area. As for the movie showing on the screen in the photo, that’s the opening logo for the new Indy movie.
That logo was also used for Zodiac. I also wish the Paramount would bring back the blue mountain logo. I guess the game version of The Warriors was close enough.
The closest drive-in to me is the Sunset Drive-In in Aurora, Missouri. I went there two years ago for a double feature of Invincible (the Mark Wahlberg football film) and Accepted (the one where they create a ficitional college). I’d go more often if they showed R-rated titles and if I lived closer. They do have a couple of drive-ins in Kansas City (one has four screens) that I’d like to go to.
Meanwhile for the Bay Area, I could imagine a drive-in in Oakland. I think you could do good business running titles that target the main population of Oakland.
The original “Star Wars” movie did not play in very many drive-ins during its initial run, but those in which it did tended to be just as outrageously successful as the indoor-theater bookings. The movie’s San Francisco Bay Area drive-in engagements included:
Campbell â€" Winchester Drive-In (opened 06.22.1977; 34 weeks)
Concord â€" Concord Auto Movies (opened 06.22.1977; 26 weeks)
Daly City â€" Geneva Drive-In (opened 06.22.1977; 18 weeks)
Mountain View â€" Moffett Drive-In (opened 08.10.1977; 19 weeks)
Oakland â€" Coliseum Drive-In (opened 06.22.1977; 18 weeks)
I’ve not done the research to verify, but I suspect that those runs of “Star Wars” may be a record for duration at those drive-ins.
Great story in the SF Cronicle about past Bay Area Drive-Ins. Now I hope they will do a story about the loss of the many indoor theatres in the SF Bay Area in the last 50 years. Many still remain but used for other things. The single screen theatres around the SF area are going fast. To start with the Cronicle needs to have a page from the movie listings of 1954 of all the local theatres that survived the Cinemascope remodel, then cross out all the cinemas that are no longer with us. You will find very few are still with us in 2008. Please don’t list any multiplexes as I don’t think we had any in the early 50’s. Show some photos of the Fox SF, Delmar San Leandro CA, Fruitvale and T&D in Oakland, Laurel in San Carlos CA. All torn down sadly now.
Drive-In Movie Theatres:
As I posted in another thread here on cinematreasures, I still recall evenings when my parents would pile my sister and I into the back of our lime-green Rambler Station Wagon, with a whole bunch of blankets, and, after eating dinner in a restaurant, we’d go to the Fresh Pond Drive-In, in Cambridge, MA, and see a movie. It was cool. The Natick Drive-In, in Natick, MA, was cool also. I remember seeing “Bullit” and “The Reivers” on it, back in the winter of 1969, as a high school senior.
Too bad there aren’t many drive-ins left, particularly here in the Bay State. I think that West Side Story would be cool shown on a huge drive-in movie screen.
Some Drive-Ins in the 50’s and 60’s had 70mm projectors and got a few 70mm prints to run on the big outdoor screens. With a new 70mm print of ‘West Side Story’ now avail I wonder If any drive-ins still have 70mm equipment in the booth today that can run this new 7Omm print and do a big advertising thing with it. The larger the outdoor screen the better for 70mm! One outdoor theatre in the Los Angeles CA area even had a curved Cinerama screen and three projector booths in the late 50’s or early 60’s.
Here’s a list of some (most? all?) of the drive-ins known or believed to have had 70mm projection capability.
100 TWIN DRIVE-IN â€" Fridley, MN
270 DRIVE-IN â€" Florissant, MO
CENTURY DRIVE-IN â€" Inglewood, CA
CINEMA 70 DRIVE-IN â€" Oklahoma City, OK
CRANSTON AUTO PARK â€" Cranston, RI
EAST DRIVE-IN â€" Aurora, CO
EDGEMERE DRIVE-IN â€" Shrewsbury, MA
FAIRGROUNDS DRIVE-IN â€" Pittsburgh, PA
FIESTA DRIVE-IN â€" Columbus, MS
FOUNTAIN VALLEY DRIVE-IN â€" Fountain Valley, CA
FRANCE AVENUE DRIVE-IN â€" Bloomington, MN
I-290 DRIVE-IN â€" Tonawanda, NY
KAILUA DRIVE-IN â€" Honolulu, HI
MAPLE LEAF DRIVE-IN â€" Maplewood, MN
MIDWAY DRIVE-IN â€" San Diego, CA
MIRACLE MILE DRIVE-IN â€" Pontiac, MI
NORTH DRIVE-IN â€" St. Louis, MO
NORTH STAR DRIVE-IN â€" Denver, CO
PACIFIC DRIVE-IN â€" San Diego, CA
RANCHO DRIVE-IN â€" San Diego, CA
RONNIE’S DRIVE-IN â€" Sappington, MO
ROUND UP DRIVE-IN â€" Phoenix, AZ
SOUTHPARK DRIVE-IN â€" Louisville, KY
SUNNYSIDE DRIVE-IN â€" Fresno, CA
SUNSET DRIVE-IN â€" Las Vegas, NV
SUPER 20 DRIVE-IN â€" Dubuque, IA
THUNDERBIRD DRIVE-IN â€" Atlanta, GA
TIGER DRIVE-IN â€" Slidell, LA
TWIN DRIVE-IN â€" Cincinnati, OH
WESTGATE DRIVE-IN â€" Metarie, LA
WHITE HORSE PIKE DRIVE-IN â€" Lawnside, NJ
YOUNG STREET DRIVE-IN â€" Tonawanda, NY
Thanks Mike for the list. These outdoor theatres are most gone now. Some Drive-In’s today must still have some 70mm projectors left in the booth?
I wish there was a good drive-in theatre left here in the Bay State that didn’t play the same schlock as most everybody else. There’s one out in Mendon, MA, which is too far away to be worth it.
It seems that, with few exceptions, that many, if not most of the Drive-In movie theatres are located in warmer climates here in the USA. I guess that’s for a reason.
I remember the Fiesta Drive-In outside of Columbus, MS. It was fantastic! Very FESTIVE. I can remember the train that would carry us little kids around the perimeter of the drive-in during intermission. It was a very wonderful place. Very sad to see it die in the late 90’s after a long decline into second-run movies and soft-core porn.. Wish the times allowed for their return.
Most of the drive ins seem to be Walmarts of Kmarts now.