20th Century Drive-In

2900 N. Dale Mabry Highway,
Tampa, FL 33607

Unfavorite 1 person favorited this theater

Showing 76 - 89 of 89 comments

Nunzienick
Nunzienick on February 13, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Mike, I just found your Dreamland letter! I’ll post your story immediately. It was in the middle of my stack of bills. Five inches of snow??! Guess I can’t complain even though we’ve had one heck of a cold spell here in the Bay area…the coldest ever on record. What happened to global warming?

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on February 13, 2010 at 3:13 am

Nick, When you see NATIONAL HILLS,IMPERIAL and COLUMBIA 1and2 on it will be me and Robin talking old days at our theatres. Can you believe we are getting 5 inches of SNOW here in Georgia tonight.WHERE IS AL GORE?

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on February 13, 2010 at 12:41 am

I see the Overton Theatre.Thanks. Did i tell you a NATIONAL HILLS employee is having a reunion FEB 20.She was assistant Mgr.I had already been canned at COLUMBIA SQ. But I did know her. She hopes to have a few old employees.Barkley WILL be there. She’s really into CT,so maybe someone here can keep our past alive.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on February 13, 2010 at 12:33 am

Yeah,I mailed the Dreamland and Overton{Texas} several weeks ago. If you lost them i can do another.My friend Tim at the Imperial was working on thr DREAMLAND,but like said he works when the mood hits.
Which i understand beacuse he is doing research and mine mostly comes me remembering.

The projectionist yelled something like"get the BLEEP out of here"
I guess “FANNY HILL” sounded inviting. I ran back p the hill to the shopping center my mom was buying food at.You just wonder if one or both of those “boys” are on CT today.both like theatres.

.bothlike old theatres too,but i

Y

Nunzienick
Nunzienick on February 11, 2010 at 5:08 am

Hey Mike, Glad you liked it. When the projectionist saw you did he throw you out? I bet you scared the heck of those kids! Same as that cop who scared me. It’s hard to forget something that intimidating. That’s a nope for journalism…I never even made it to college.

I thought I had posted all the stories you sent but I don’t recall Dreamland or Overton. Can’t believe I missed those…I’ll find them and get them up quickly.

Go ahead and mail the new ones to me now…I’ll post them the same day they arrive in the mail.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on February 10, 2010 at 1:07 am

Hey, Did you do the DREAMLAND and OVERTON THEATRES? Nick, Ray sent two more theatre stories one is THE TRI-CITY DRIVE-In and SKYLAND ARTS CINEMA. I would like to send them down for you to put on CT,But i don’t want keep sending stuff down all the time when you plenty of Tampa Theatres to work on.Just let me know when to mail them. Thanks. Ray really likes what you have already done with his Theatres in N.C. .

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on February 10, 2010 at 1:02 am

Nick, It was worth waiting for. I did the same thing at FOREST HILLS DRIVE-In. A projectionist caught me one night sneaking in on the very adult “FANNY HILL” . But i did venture into the conession stand After it went out of business, to find two youngerboys inside looking around and i said,and i remember it like yesterday, “My family owned this Drive-in, What are you two doing here?” I could have gotten an Oscar. They left on their bikes fast!
You should have went on it I am sure you would have found some great stuff like I did back in 1969.
Those were some bad movies to close on.Only"HARDCORE" with George C. Scott was the only half way decent movie. They could have MADE it an event.
Thanks for mention. I do wish you were able to print your pictures and mine. I did go on FOREST HILLS and was able to see what that Drive-in looked like,Pretty much what I thought. I was glad someone had that BOXOFFICE ISSUE. I wish i could get a bit better picture,but i can’t complain.
Robin Mccoy, Who worked at National Hills about the time i got canned at COLUMBIA SQUARE is putting together a reunion. BIll will be there. I told her about CT and she has already posted on NATIONAL HILLS and the IMPERIAL.

Well, thanks for a great story,I do hope more fans will read your very well written stories,Did you minor in Journalism,by any chance?

Nunzienick
Nunzienick on February 8, 2010 at 9:40 am

This story is dedicated to Mike Rogers from Augusta!

Mike: since you’ve waited so long for this I’m dedicating the 20th Century story to you!

FINALLY!

It’s taken me much longer than I had expected to complete this story. I had anticipated this to be a quick write-up but between finding the time for research and digging through the cobwebs of my mind for memories of the 20th Century this has turned into a project nearly as lengthy as my story on the Hillsboro Drive-in.

First, just to clarify a couple of misconceptions. The 20th Century was not replaced by a K-Mart.
K-Mart was built on an empty lot beside the drive-in although I’m not certain if this was before
or after the drive-in had closed. An apartment complex occupies the site where the drive-in stood. As I recall during the late 50s and into the 60s there were a couple of businesses near the intersection of Dale Mabry and Columbus Drive. I believe one of them was a Burger Giant or a similarly named burger joint now long gone. Directly behind these businesses lay a huge open field with the drive-in just beyond. Today that open field is the K-Mart parking lot. Also, the drive-in closed in 1980 rather than 1979.

And shame on theatre management for posting GOODBYE TAMPA AND THANKS FOR 35 YEARS on the marquee upon closing. I had a heck of a time in researching the opening date as I was relying on this information to allow me to quickly zero-in on the year it opened. It was easy enough to locate the closing date in 1980, and counting back 35 years would place the opening in 1945. Finding no ads for the 20th Century in 1945 I advanced several months at a time and finally began skipping years until I found the opening in 1952. So the 20th Century was in existence for only 28 years and 10 days! I have no idea how management came up with 35 years. I hope I haven’t made a mistake about the years on the marquee or I’ll be one heck of an embarrassed guy. I was driving down Dale Mabry when I saw it and I could swear it said 35 years. If it did in fact say 28 then I stand corrected and my apologies to management. There may be a photo of the marquee or an article that may have been published after closing which may clear this up. I’ll post any findings or corrections here later.

The grand opening was a 4-night event beginning on Wednesday evening, November 26, 1952 and continuing through Saturday evening. Here’s the opening day article from The Tampa Times dated November 26, 1952:

NEW DRIVE-IN THEATER OPENING SET FOR TONIGHT
Extra Large Screen Among Innovations

Tampa’s smart new 20th Century Drive-In Theater, completed today at Dale Mabry Highway and Columbus Drive will open tonight with its first film exhibition on what is claimed as “the largest movie screen in the Tampa area.” Two outstanding films have been booked to give Tampans exceptional entertainment in the opening offering. A double bill of Technicolor pictures, “Sword’s Point” with Cornel Wilde and Maureen O'Hara, and “Two Tickets to Broadway” with Tony Martin, Janet Leigh, Eddie Bracken and Gloria DeHaven.

Hundreds of Tampans are expected to motor out to the new theater tonight for the opening which begins at 5:30 o'clock. They will not only see a drive-in theater designed to accommodate 500 cars with in-a-car speakers but an auditorium with indoor seating for 300 spectators who are not in cars and outdoor seating for an additional 200 walk-in patrons. Sound will come to patrons through a sound system, providing natural, high fidelity reproduction of the voice, music and sound effects. And the pictures are made easier to see by the use of strong “mighty ninety” lamps in the projection room.

An air-conditioned snack bar is conveniently located within the theater, affording refreshments of many varieties. Free pony rides are available on the grounds for children under 12. Two entrances have been provided, one on Dale Mabry Hwy. the other on Columbus Dr. The latter has a 700-foot “holding area” for cars, assuring an extra measure of safety and convenience. The beautifully landscaped theater area is a creation of Carl Moseley and Associates. Mr. Moseley, a Tampa attorney, is president of the company which built this newest addition to the Tampa entertainment field.

And also from the opening day ad:

A snack bar with full view of screen — sit around the bar and miss not one minute of the show as the large plate glass window provides a clear view for everyone — see the operators with the newest giant projectors flashing the finest clear pictures on the super large screen that does not offer a single angle regardless of where you park — you may watch the operators work in their glass enclosed room — and for your comfort there is an indoor theatre with seating — every car has a clear view of our giant screen — rain or shine you’ll enjoy the new protected Ballantyne Sound Master Speakers that you adjust yourself — most convenient location — for your comfort on cold rainy nights just park your car behind the snack bar and walk-in — no extra charge.

Of course by the time I began attending all of this was gone. The concessions building had been totally renovated and remodeled and none of the above amenities were visible that I recall.

The drive-in opened with a capacity of 500 parking spaces and later expanded to 600. It was situated off the southeast corner of Dale Mabry Highway and Columbus Drive although not near the intersection. The drive-in property was located further inland and bordered the northwest corner of Himes Avenue at Beach Street. Through most of the 1970s much of the property between Columbus Drive and the drive-in was covered with overgrown shrubbery, bushes and trees.

The 20th Century had several owners through the years. According to one source an earlier owner was Bob Morales. There may have been others but by the early 1960s it had come under the ownership of Tampa Bay Theatres, Inc. which I believe was later either absorbed by or sold to Carl Floyd of Floyd Theatres. It remained a Floyd theatre until closing.

The Hillsboro Drive-In has always been my favorite with the 20th Century following a close second. Actually the 20th Century was much closer to where I lived (a little over a mile) with the Hillsboro
being about 3 miles further. The 20th Century had a large concessions building that also housed the projection booth. This building contained at least five entrances/exits between the front, rear and sides. No matter which way you looked when you were inside you’d see a doorway leading out. The door to the booth was located across from the concessions counter and was often closed. On those rare occasions when the door was open and you were waiting in line at the concessions counter, you could see the projectionist rewinding reels or threading up those massive projectors. On the wall next to the booth was a huge 3-sheet poster display case. A revolving color wheel mounted on the ceiling and aimed at the poster produced a nice alternating color effect.

For several years during the early-to-mid 1960s every car entering the 20th Century received a free carload pass good for Wednesdays only. The program every Wednesday were two films that had already played the drive-in circuit several months prior and were brought back for a second or third booking. On Thursdays the program reverted back to current releases. You’d never see a new or recent film on Wednesdays at the 20th Century!

There were three unique things about the 20th Century that set it apart from all other drive-ins in the area:

  1. The only drive-in in Tampa with a giant CinemaScope screen. It was super W-I-D-E! Without a doubt the largest in town. When the drive-in first opened it had the standard squarish screen that was common in many drive-ins. Looking closely you could see the original cinder block screen and the side additions that were later added after CinemaScope was introduced in 1953. A photo published in Box Office magazine dated 1964 shows the projection booth with newly purchased equipment recently installed along with the caption, “a screen in excess of 110 feet wide.” Thanks to Mike Rogers from Augusta who sent me this great photo!! I wish I knew how to post photos on CT as others have done but I have no clue how to do it. I have several photos of Tampa’s theatres so if anyone can explain the procedure I’d be most appreciative.

  2. The only Tampa drive-in with two separate entrances and two marquees. The main entrance was on Dale Mabry with a second entrance on Columbus Drive. Both marquees were constructed of cinder blocks and were identical. The were low enough to the ground to allow an easy change of letters without the need for a long ladder to reach the upper portion. During the early 1960s the Dale Mabry entrance received a larger and fancier steel marquee. This new marquee was high enough off the ground to prevent pranksters from screwing around with the letters. It also contained a narrow platform that ran the length of the marquee below the letter placement area allowing easy access for the change of titles. The Columbus Drive marquee remained in place until the theatre closed. Since it was low enough to reach without any great effort it provided pranksters with the golden opportunity to impress their friends by simply walking up and rearranging the letters to some unreadable gibberish which they did every so often.

  3. The only Tampa drive-in with two playgrounds. One at the front of the concessions building for the smaller children and another one at the rear of the building for the bigger kids.

HERE ARE SOME OF MY FONDEST MEMORIES OF THE 20TH CENTURY:

Around 1959 or 1960 a good friend of my father insists on taking us one evening. He said a good movie was showing at the 20th Century and he and his wife would be by to pick us up so we could all go together in one car. I remember sitting in the back seat and watching this movie but I swear to this day I only remember one scene in the entire film, and I have no idea what the title was other than what I now perceive to have possibly been an “epic” film. The scene that sticks in my mind: a woman leading a large group of children (possibly 100 or more) all in a line over what I believe was a desert and they were all singing “knick knack paddy whack give the dog a bone.” For years I’ve wondered what the title is but there’s so little to go on. Even some friends of mine who know older films very well are stumped. I’ve hit dead ends at every corner. The only other option is to scan the microfilm ads for the 20th Century for the 1959-1960 time frame and hopefully find an ad that might look familiar or give a hint which would probably be an impossible task. If anyone has any idea please post the title here!

Begging my parents to take me when “Village of the Damned” opened. Having already seen it at the Palace downtown I had become obsessed with this little gem. It played as the second feature on a double bill with Jerry Lewis in “The Delicate Delinquent.” And there were many others I had previously seen at the downtown theatres that I managed to talk my parents into taking me when they opened here such as “Konga” “Journey to the Seventh Planet” “Psycho” “The Birds” “The Road to Hong Kong” “State Fair” “Beach Party” “West Side Story” “Mutiny on the Bounty” and many more.

Being mesmerized by the beautiful and exciting Ann-Margret as she sang the title song to “Bye Bye Birdie” on that wide screen! No woman ever looked more gorgeous to me at the time and I’ve been
a lifelong fan ever since.

Vividly remembering a great triple feature program that has stuck with me through the years as one of the best I’ve ever seen at a drive-in. The films were “Day of the Triffids” “Premature Burial” and “Cabinet of Dr. Calgari.” Why I remember these so fondly I can’t say other then maybe because they were all in Scope and looked great on that wide screen.

“Cleopatra” opens for its first outdoor showing following its run at the Palace downtown. This was the very first time I saw the drive-in packed to the gills. The 20th Century is one of Tampa’s largest and I was curious to see if there were any cars parked on the very last row which I had never seen filled. So I walked towards the rear just to satisfy my curiosity and sure enough every single space was taken all the way back even on the very last row. No doubt the urge to see “Cleopatra” was worldwide due to the real-life romance of Burton and Taylor that had been splashed across every movie magazine cover for more than a year. And not to mention the unheard-of-cost of $40 million for a film at the time. An irresistible combination for many moviegoers.

Driving down Dale Mabry and seeing the line of cars about 5 blocks long awaiting entrance to the new attraction “Jason and the Argonauts.” Interestingly this film never played the first-run houses here. It opened exclusively at the 20th Century and Fun-Lan Drive-Ins.

Approaching the box-office one evening I see the former manager of the Ritz Theatre working here. When the Ritz closed in 1965 he apparently was transferred here since both the Ritz and the 20th Century were owned and operated during this time by Tampa Bay Theatres, Inc.

One evening I’m standing in line at concessions and I’m surprised to my aunt behind the counter! I said, “What are YOU doing here?” She needed a part-time job and although it didn’t pay very much she enjoyed working there plus the drive-in was close to her house. We were talking recently about the time she worked at the 20th Century and she said she had a photo of the group of employees she worked with which I’d love to see if she can find it.

AND HERE ARE SOME OF MY NOT-SO-FOND MEMORIES:

“The Crater Lake Monster” is playing and the line of cars at the box office is moving very slow. Each car is taking longer than usual at the box office. The hold-up? AM Radio Sound had just been installed and the box-office personel are having to explain to every car the procedure for tuning-in the frequency.

The evening we watched about half of “West Side Story” in-between windshield wiper blades on a slightly rainy evening that just wouldn’t let up. My parents weren’t about to leave before the end after having paid the slightly higher admission price for this special drive-in engagement.

A strong hurricane-like storm brushes Tampa in the early 1960s. A couple days later I’m driving by the 20th Century and I’m shocked to see an elongated hole maybe about 15 feet wide between the black base of the screen and into the white viewing area. I’m guessing that a powerful blast of wind blew something against it with enough force to punch a hole clean through it. I figured the drive-in wouldn’t be able to reopen until the hole was repaired. But then I see cars pulling into the lot and parking so I guess the management’s decision was that a hole that size in a screen 110 feet wide won’t be that noticeable when the movie is on. The main feature playing that night was “Ghost in the Invisible Bikini.”

Around 1966 two friends of mine had an unpleasant experience here. I was supposed to have gone with them that evening but wasn’t able to at the last minute. The next day at school my friend tells me, “you won’t believe what happened to us at the drive-in last night…we forgot to put the speaker back on the post before pulling out and we yanked the entire post out of the ground along with the cement base and we also yanked the window out of the car parked next to us!” My friend said the driver got out of his car but surprisingly was not that upset about it but his wife kept yelling, “call the police-call the police!” The manager was notified and came out to survey the damage. He then asks my friends,
“when was the last time you guys been to a drive-in?” And my smart-mouthed friend replies, “we’ve never been to a drive-in that has termites in their speaker poles!” Unfortunately to this day I cannot remember the outcome of this incident. I don’t know if the police were called or whether they had to pay for the damage or were just let go. And I can’t ask my friends today since both are no longer with us.

I had gotten into the habit of having my father drop me off near the drive-in about once a week. Opposite the drive-in was a small used car business with a swing set on the property. I had a perfect view of the screen from here and at times I could even hear the sound very faintly. So here I’d sit on the swing set watching the cars enter (wishing I was in one of them!) and watching the movie for maybe a couple hours. I did this a few times before getting the courage to sneak onto the lot. I’d have to walk through the open field near the trees on the side while keeping an eye on the box-office and could quickly duck behind the trees if need be. The first time I was nervous as heck and it took me awhile to muster the courage to go in. The lot was fenced-in with a chain-link fence on two sides and by overgrown bushes on the other side.

The rear had a tall privacy fence that ran alongside the roadway leading into the lot. The exact spot where the roadway turned into the lot behind the privacy fence is where you could sneak in. But you had to cross the roadway in full view of the box office just a few yards away and also any cars entering the lot. So you’d have to carefully watch from behind the bushes waiting for a break between cars entering as well as making sure the box-office attendants were not watching. Then you’d quickly run across the road and duck behind the privacy fence and head for the concessions building. Once inside the dark lot you were pretty much safe.

One evening while I was hiding behind the bushes anticipating my move I head some footsteps in the grass behind me. It was a guy from my jr. high school who was also planning on sneaking in. He came up beside me saying, “let me show you how to do it without getting caught…you run like hell across the roadway and don’t stop until you reach the concessions building and mingle with the crowd and you won’t be noticed.” So he takes off running full speed and I watch him as he disappears towards the concessions. It took me some time to build up the nerve but I finally make a run for it and I made it to the concessions. I saw him a few minutes later and he says, “hey man I see you finally made it!”

Afterwards I snuck in regularly. On this one particular weekday evening the lot was barely half full and most of the rows at the rear were empty. I think the movie that night was “It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World.” I ran across the road but slowed down as I entered the back of the lot. Believing I was home free I began walking casually towards the concessions when all of a sudden from behind me I heard a voice yell, “HEY!!!” I turned to see a cop walking towards me. He approached me and asked where was I going. I had to think quickly for an answer that at the time seemed logical but turned out to be ridiculous.

Me: “I was just trying to get to the other side and I was using the drive-in as a short cut.”

Cop: “so you were just trying to get to the other side by cutting right through the center of the drive-in right??!!”

Me: “I was cutting through here because I was afraid if I cut through the outside by the box office they’ll see me.” (can’t believe I made such a stupid remark!)

Cop: “So you were afraid they’d see you crossing huh? So you’re cutting through the drive-in to get to the other side instead of walking around the outside of the drive-in? I tell you what – the next time I catch you in here were gonna take a trip downtown you understand?!

Me: “yes sir!” So I turned and walked out of the lot the same way I had entered and that was the end of my sneaking-in days for good.

The last night of operation was Saturday, December 5, 1980. The drive-in had an ending celebration of sorts which they called a “Close Out Special/Something For Everyone.” They ran 6 features but there was no mention of free coffee and doughnuts at the conclusion!

The features were: “George” “Master Gunfighter” “Green Hornet” “King of Kung Fu” “Hardcore” and “Sexy Susan Sins Again.”

Although they said something for everyone I don’t see any horror/sci-fi or any musicals! And the last title sounds like it may have been X-rated.

A few days after closing I drove out one evening and walked up to the privacy fence at the rear. The bottom portion of the fence had been taken down and looking in I saw most of the speaker poles had
already been removed. The concessions building and screen were still standing but it was very dark inside the lot and it looked really foreboding and kinda creepy. Something told me not to venture any
further onto the lot so I turned around and headed back. I wonder what equipment (if any) remained in the booth? Had it been during the day I surely would’ve gone in but that may not have been possible with a crew on the site dismantling the drive-in.

Well I hope this has provided some insight into Tampa’s only widescreen drive-in. And the more I think about it the more I believe the 20th Century may go right alongside the Hillsboro as my two favorites!

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on January 27, 2010 at 3:01 am

Nick,Have you done another Drive-in somewhere else? I keep checking here for the 20th Century.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on January 17, 2010 at 12:47 am

Hey, Nick Go to HAWAII CINERAMA on CT they were sticking intermssions into movies like the Hillsboro was.According to one guy it was common practice. So you were not alone.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on January 17, 2010 at 12:05 am

Nick, If you get a chance i am having a good discussion on the Ratings systems with two members one is on NATIONAL HILLS and the other on DANIEL VILLAGE. I know you working in the business and have shown movies i know you have a view on the ratings.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on January 16, 2010 at 11:18 pm

Nick, you were doing your next story on the 20th Century? I keep looking,If it’s another one call me so i can read what you wrote.Thanks for some great stories on TAMPA’S theatres.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on January 10, 2010 at 2:42 am

Nick, I am waiting on the write up on the 20th Century.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on December 3, 2009 at 12:01 am

I have a picture of the booth from a BOXOFFICE magazine in the late 60’s.Nick, you need to see all these Tampa Drive -ins .