Morris Plains Drive-In

2040 New Jersey 10,
Morris Plains, NJ 07950

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rivest266 on January 12, 2018 at 3:42 pm

This opened on April 8th, 1948. Grand opening ad in the photo section.

Drive-In 54
Drive-In 54 on January 25, 2016 at 7:00 am

The address is:

2040 New Jersey 10 Morris Plains, NJ 07950

jwmovies on October 26, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Approx. address for this drive-in was 2040 New Jersey 10.

jayessar on September 25, 2012 at 6:27 am

Entrance was on Route 10 westbound, beyond Route 202, but before Route 53. The screen was near the road, and was parellel with Route 10.

moviebuff82 on February 29, 2008 at 11:26 am

that must’ve been some big space for such a drive-in.

filmfanz on February 29, 2008 at 9:19 am

If my memory serves correctly, the entrance for the drive-in would have been almost exactly where the BARNES and NOBLE stands right now…and the parking/viewing area would have been where the Campus Drive Corporate Park marrs the landscape.

moviebuff82 on February 24, 2007 at 7:45 am

what’s in place of the drive in? At the intersection is a bunch of retail space that has taken up the space of the farm.

teecee on August 20, 2006 at 12:39 pm

The Sound of Music played here on August 17, 1968:
View link

BobHardin on May 15, 2006 at 10:06 am

While growing up in the 60’s, my brother and I often ventured out with mom and dad to the Morris Plans Drive In. Residing up the highway in Denville, we probably could have walked, had there been sidewalks on Rt 10.. In the 70’s I was able to drive myself. Near the end of the drive in’s run, there were a few times we’d arrive at the lot, circle through, only to realize no one was there to run the show. The end was near. But, in the mid 80’s is when my note of interest takes place…

I rented the upstairs of a kind woman’s house in Dover. Her name was Bea Doland, and her husband had passed years earlier, prior to my moving in. I partially recall one of our conversations involving the Morris Plains Drive In. She stated that she, and her husband, had managed(owned?) the MPDI for some 20(?) odd years. I think, at the time, I asked if she had any photos. She did not. That was that. My interest in local ‘retro’ history has grown since then, I regret not having asked her to share more memories.

teecee on July 20, 2005 at 8:20 am

Still open in 1977, courtesy of Bill Huelbig:
View link

teecee on July 7, 2005 at 2:29 am

Here is the link. I added a comment about its location on Route 10:

teecee on June 28, 2005 at 2:44 am

by the way Robert / William, have you done any research on Route 20? I don’t believe that it exists anymore. Most likely it has been renumbered.

teecee on June 27, 2005 at 9:37 am

This one goes back to the late 40s or early 50s. Here is a nostalgic look at NJ drive ins, including the Morris Plains:

The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), Nov 3, 2002 p003
The king of the drive-in. (PERSPECTIVE)

My first visit to a drive-in movie theater came shortly after World War II.

My parents bundled my sister, brother and me into our pajamas, piled us into the back seat of our blue Plymouth sedan (still equipped with the wooden bumpers used on cars during the war), and took us to the Morris Plains Drive-In to see a movie about the Titanic.

The idea, of course, was that we children would soon fall asleep and the grownups would have the rare treat of quietly enjoying a movie.

My sister and brother went along with the program. I didn’t. I stayed awake and scared myself silly.

I was remembering this the other day and wondering which Titanic movie it had been, as none of those made about the fateful maiden voyage of that famous ocean liner was released in the late 1940s. The one starring Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb came out in ‘53, and the one before that was a German propaganda film released a decade earlier. My parents weren’t big moviegoers. They had a consuming interested in current events, however, so they surely would have been drawn to a showing of the German film. Is it possible that film made the rounds of U.S. theaters after the war?

Unfortunately, one of the few people who might have answered that question passed away recently – Wilfred “Bill” Paul Smith, who built most of New Jersey’s drive-in theaters.

In fact, he assisted on the very first drive-in theater in the world, which – provided you don’t count a fairly unsuccessful attempt in 1927 to project a movie onto the side of a barn in Valley Stream, Long Island – was built by Richard Hollingshead in Camden in 1933.

Smith and Hollingshead went on to build more – an achievement noted in, among other places, the Smithsonian Institution.

But Bill Smith wasn’t just a builder. He was a movie buff, dedicated enough that I’ll bet he would have known exactly which Titanic movie I saw.

“Dad could tell you the names of the sound guys, the producers, everyone connected with a film,” says his son, Wilfred P. Jr., of Denville.

So it was logical, says Bill Jr., that after building all these drive-ins for other people, Bill Sr. finally built two for himself, in Ledgewood (1950) and Newton (1957).

“Every Monday morning he’d take the Lakeland bus into New York to order his movies,” Bill Jr. recalls. That was the day studio agents gathered at Sardi’s to give theater owners a preview of coming attractions.

“Dad would make a selection and cut the deal,” says Smith. “It might be a flat rate of, say, $300. Or it would be a percent of the gross – 40-45 percent in most cases. Except for Walt Disney; he always got 60-65 percent.”

I didn’t get to the drive-in as much as some of my friends, because I couldn’t go there on dates. I had a strict father who was quite aware they were called “passion pits” and why. When I was 17 he relented; I could go to a drive-in on a double date.

Smith’s kids didn’t get to go to the drive-in on dates, either – but for an entirely different reason. They were working. Right there. Theirs was a family business, according to Bill Jr., who says he, his brother and three sisters mowed the lawns, repaired broken speakers, stocked the refreshment stand, and sold tickets and popcorn. Then they came back for morning-after cleanup, “fighting the crows and skunks for the pizza crusts.”

At first, in any case, this was just a warm-weather enterprise. Then car heaters came along, and Bill Smith was first in line, extending his open season.

“Dad was a pioneer for plug-in heaters,” says Bill Jr. “Ours were made by the Arvin Heater Company.”

But he still closed for the coldest months, and since his large family kept needing food and clothing, Bill Sr. would spend those months working at MacGregor, a sweater and woolens manufacturer in Dover. It was an odd combination, but it did the job, right up until he retired in 1975.

He’d been one of the first in the drive-in business, and as it turned out, he was one of the last, at least in New Jersey. Escalating land values, property taxes and insurance costs made drive-ins a passing if fondly remembered piece of Americana in these parts.

New Jersey’s very last drive-in, on Route 35 in Hazlet, closed a few years ago, which I know because my husband and I went there on its next-to-last night, for nostalgia’s sake. The last picture show was “Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man,” which was not anywhere near as memorable as my Titanic flick.

Until I read his obituary, Wilfred Smith’s name would have rung no bells for me. The people behind our entertainment pastimes rarely become household names.

But anyone who grew up in the ‘40s, '50s or '60s probably would join me in a tip of the hat to Smith for all those happy long-ago hours spent watching movies from the cozy confines of their cars.

Even when they were supposed to be asleep.

Fran Wood is a Star-Ledger columnist.

Article CJ93896015

William on June 7, 2005 at 6:25 pm

The Morris Plains Drive-In was located at Highways 20 & 202. It had a car capacity of 780 cars.