53 Drive-In

N. Hicks Road and Rand Road,
Palatine, IL 60074

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53 Drive-In Entrance

Viewing: Photo | Street View

One of the more popular of the suburban Chicago-area drive-in theaters, the 53 Outdoor Theatre originally opened in 1960 with a single screen and a capacity from 765 cars. It was located near Route 12 and Route 53 in the northwestern suburb of Palatine.

In the mid-1970’s, two more screens were added to the 53 Drive-In. Until the 1980’s, the 53 Drive-In played everything from art movies to Z-grade horror movies to adult films. During its last few years in operation, the 53 Drive-In played mainly mainstream commercial Hollywood fare.

It closed in 1986 and was demolished a year later to make way for a UPS shipping facility.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 15 comments)

whyprsnapr
whyprsnapr on May 11, 2007 at 7:20 am

I believe the place opened with CLEOPATRA and much fanfare. There was a playground (very low-rent) beneath the screen which was slowly consumed by the earth beneath it. I remember seeing a double bill of PEYTON PLACE and SINK THE BISMARK as a kid, but coming back as a teen to sneak in beers and (not so successfully)try to “make out” with dates. Another double bill, barely remembered from this ear was BARBARELLA and THE GREEN BERET.

By the time multiple screen were added, the place was turning into a open air gindhouse I vividly remember seeing rats run between the cars as LOVE CAMP 7 played on one of the screens. I also remember a cop coming by to shine a flashlight in our car during the winter (very Orwellian) because they could, I guess.

The stories about car wrecks due to passersby trying to catch a glimpse of the porno flicks was at least reported as true by the local press.

By the early 70s, more discriminating tastes headed to Wheeling’s TWIN DRIVE-IN where we could watch airplanes land next door should the movie get too boring.

Ten minutes to showtime….

joesampson
joesampson on June 23, 2009 at 8:07 pm

Seen as a 5 picture marathon in around 1980:

Massacre at Central High
Night of the Living Dead
The Corpse Grinders
The Rats are Coming, the Werewolves are Here

I begged my Mom to take me to this monster fest and she did. However, by the time “rats” rolled, it was enough. I don’t remember what the fifth movie was as we didn’t see it.

BarringtonBob
BarringtonBob on July 30, 2009 at 7:13 pm

I guess my girlfriend and I were among the earliest patrons of the 53 Drive-In as we frequented it in 1960-61 from our homes in Barrington. I never had any money so I’d hide her in the trunk to avoid paying admission, which I believe was 50 cents. Yes, I got curious looks from those in the ticket booth when I drove in, seemingly alone.

Remember those in-car heaters? These were the times of which fond memories were made.

BarringtonBob

kencmcintyre
kencmcintyre on March 18, 2010 at 9:48 pm

There was an article about the 53 Drive-In, June 1960, from Boxoffice magazine:
http://tinyurl.com/yagbgqr

galechicago
galechicago on June 27, 2011 at 11:41 pm

The 53 Drive-in was at Hicks Road (Old Route 53) just south of Route 12, which is Rand Road (Northwest Highway is Route 14).

My friends and I saw Purple Rain at the 53 Drive-in. What a hoot, a carload of girls in a Firebird watching Prince. Can you imagine? Tinny little drive-in speaker hanging on the window for a music concert movie! We had big hair, big shoulder pads, and thought we were So Cool.

rivest266
rivest266 on June 23, 2012 at 5:22 pm

This opened on April 29th, 1960. I uploaded an aerial and grand opening ad here.

KilrTomato
KilrTomato on July 20, 2012 at 1:51 pm

Wow….just found this site and had to post. I am 49 now and grew up in Palatine. I remember going there with my parents and younger sister as a kid and the playground under the big screen. Went there with friends and dates in high school and we drank beer, acted stupid etc. While in college, I was an employee there for three Summers (1981-1983) and at one time or another worked all areas of the theater. I helped maintain the speakers and sound systems, helped with security, worked in concessions, did grounds keeping, box office cahier, changed the marquee with the new movies at the front entrance and ended up the latter part of my last Summer as an Asst. Manager. Poppy Kohlberg was the adult offspring (in her early 40s at the time) of the owner/founder, who I never did meet. Poppy ran and managed the theater in the 80s and her brother ran the projectors. I met and worked with a lot of interesting people who I have long since lost touch with.

Also, there is a group on Face Book for the 53 Drive In which can easily be found with a FB search. I commented there about four or five months ago, but not much activity. Also, the picture on the FB site could be the only known surviving picture of the place. They were asking for more pics from potential contributors on the FB site, but that seems to be it. I never took any while working there and now wish I had. Kind of sad really, since it was a landmark and an icon from 1960 through 1986. Now it is a UPS shipping center. There is nothing on the location where it once stood to suggest it ever even existed. A lot of good memories though.

drm128
drm128 on August 15, 2014 at 2:27 pm

My first job was at the 53 Drive-In Theatre. I would get there in late afternoon and me and a couple of the guys would walk around the grounds with big plastic trash cans and pick up the “stuff” left on the grounds from the night before. Hehehe, you can image what we found and how we learned about life! Then it was back to the snack bar and start popping the corn to put in the heat racks and we even served hot dogs and pizza, which I helped make in the small oven we had. It was a unique experience both as a job and as a customer when we went in my parents car.

PeterNorth
PeterNorth on September 10, 2014 at 12:11 am

I think I spent every Saturday night the summers of 1980 and 1981 at the 53 drive-in. These were some good times, The midnight adult movies were fun as they charged $1.00 per car for these shows, when you were under age you just turned your head and handed the dollar out the car window.

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