Rhododendron Drive-In

15th Street,
Florence, OR 97439

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Rhododendron Drive-In

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The Rhododendron Drive-In was open by 1955 and was operated by M.E. Ritter Jr.

Contributed by Steve Swanson

Recent comments (view all 4 comments)

SteveSwanson
SteveSwanson on January 3, 2012 at 1:19 am

Construction for the Rhody began January 1953. With a planned opening of March 15th, (rather optimistic for the time of year and coastal weather) At the time the drive-in was located north of Florence on Hwy. 101, the entrance was on 15th Street. The lot itself was almost 7 acres. 3 separate exits off 15th, 17th & 18th Streets. The snack bar was painted with Flamingo pink, chartreuse & Waterford green colors & large picture windows on the front. The menu included: hot dogs, popcorn, soda, candy, ice cream plus coffee and hot cocoa. The screen tower measured 60 by 60 feet. The booth was equipped with Motiograph projectors & Microphonic sound.

 March 15th came and went and they might have finished construction but it would be a few more weeks until the weather improved to open up for business. The grand opening on April 30th featured Duel at Silver Creek (Audie Murphy) and Tazan's Savage Fury (Lex Baxter) Admission was 60 cents for adults and 20 cents for children. A new program started May 3rd & 4th, Flat Top & Palomino. They expanded to 7 days a week on May 10th. 
                  

The closure of the Rhody drive-in came at the end of the 1979 season, when owner Don Hicks was unable to obtain a new long term lease with the city. There was about 7 to 10 thousand dollars needed for repairs and improvements to keep it going. “The town is losing a valuable asset in entertainment. The people would like to have it. I know, but I’m not going to fight it.” Don Hicks

 The land later became Miller Park with 2 baseball fields and playground equipment. However, Scott Hicks, Don's son, has started an annual 'Return to the Rhody' night with a free movie in late summer at the park.  
                  
Drive-In 54
Drive-In 54 on January 3, 2012 at 10:57 am

Nice update Steve!!

Any pictures?

SteveSwanson
SteveSwanson on January 5, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Thanks hispeed. I spent 3 hours at the Florence library, wasn’t too hard to find the opening & closing dates. The weekly newspaper at the time was the Siuslaw Oar, now Siuslaw Times. There was no staff photographer, so only a few print articles to choose from in ‘53. It appears there were at least 3 different owners, the Ritters, who owned the Florence/Harbor hardtop. Sometime in the 60’s, Len Swain & Lloyd Claver owned it. They also owned the Reedsport theaters then. Mr. Claver has ties to the Roxy in Coquille in 1940. And finally, Don Hicks.

After 30 years, there is no trace of the drive-in. I hope to make out there in the summer for Return To The Rhody.  Scott Hicks has his own theater tech company. Back in 2007, he helped with a final show at the Starlite DI in Roseburg, OR. The drive-in had been closed for ten years, but the booth equipment was still there. Other than installing a 'temp' blower fan, the FILM projectors were in really good shape.  
                  
Drive-In 54
Drive-In 54 on January 5, 2012 at 7:20 pm

Good luck in your hunt for picures…Randy

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