Hill-Top Drive-In

1800 Maple Road,
Joliet, IL 60432

623 cars

Unfavorite 4 people favorited this theater

Hill-Top Drive-In

Operating since August 1949, this popular 1950’s-vintage drive-in, with a large, single screen, and capacity for 623 cars, closed suddenly in the middle of the 2001 season and has remained abandoned since, falling victim to vandals and disrepair.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 13 comments)

DavidZornig on October 31, 2008 at 8:59 pm

Wow, this place is haunting. Great location for a film’s climax of some sort.

Does anyone know if the nearby town of Lemont had any movie theatres of it’s own?
I know the old drug store on the main drag near the I&M Canal is still there. Budds or whatever it is.
Along with a few landmark taverns & restaurants.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on May 22, 2010 at 7:01 pm

SiliconSam,Great video of the Hilltop.

keycom on February 7, 2014 at 2:15 pm

My father Irwin Joseph owned and operated the Hilltop until his death in 1957. Judging by HilltopKen’s post, the theater must have been sold to L&M Management after my dad died (I have no personal knowledge of to whom it was sold, and my mom Marjorie-Lee Joseph is no longer around to tell me, sadly). My dad also was a movie distributor in the mid ‘50s, specializing in “exploitation” films including “She Shoulda Said No” (a/k/a “Wild Weed”), “Ecstasy” (Hedy Lamar’s first film, in which she appears nude) and four birth-of-a-baby movies (“Mom and Dad”, “Bob and Sally”, “Street Corner” and “Because of Eve”). Between the third and the fourth reel, a lecturer, the “noted expert on sexual hygiene Mr. Alexander Leeds” and other fictitiously named individuals — all ex-carnival barkers — would give a 20-minute talk that was actually a pitch for a sex-hygiene manual. Each movie had its own pair of manuals, one for women and one for men. My mom wrote at least one of those pairs. I remember as a teen-ager, tromping around the Hilltop lot carrying stacks of books, approaching each car with our standard pitch: “One of each?” It usually worked. We charged a buck each and the books cost a dime each to print. Another reminiscence: David F. Friedman, my dad’s “vice president in charge of vice,” filmed an early soft-porn film called “Lucky Pierre” on the Hilltop lot over a long weekend. I wasn’t notified until well after the deed was done, darn it — I’d certainly have made a point to be on hand. Cinephiles and students of exploitation and nudie films will recognize Dave’s name — he went on to become a leading impresario of the form and headed the Adult Film Assn. of America for a time.

Frank S. Joseph Chevy Chase MD

P.S. If you check out the CinemaTreasures entry for the old States Theatre at 3507 S. State St., Chicago, you’ll see my post there too. My grandpa Nathan Joseph owned and operated the States all his adult life. My novel TO LOVE MERCY (ISBN 0-9744785-3-9) is set in part in the “Calumet Theatre,” the stand-in for the States. Finally, my uncle Richard Salkin managed the old Jackson Park Theater at 67th and Stony Island Ave. The Jackson Park is famous in movie-industry lore for giving its name to a Supreme Court case that ultimately forced the major film companies to divest the movie theaters they owned.

keycom on February 7, 2014 at 2:38 pm

Correction: Thanks to IMdB.com, I now remember the full correct title was “The Adventures of Lucky Pierre.” From the IMdB entry: “A man imagines that everybody he sees is naked. He goes to see a psychiatrist to see if he can be cured.” The movie starred a baggy-pants burlesque comic named Billy Falbo and was directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis, later to make a big name as a direct-mail guru. I’m something of a DM guru myself, as it happens. Some years ago I was in Florida and looked Herschell up. He was then a very old man, but still writing copy for clients. He didn’t remember me, of course (I was a teen-ager), and didn’t actually have a lot to say about my dad or Dave Friedman either; he’d moved on and made a new life in direct marketing.

Frank Joseph, Mister DMâ„¢ Chevy Chase MD

edison on January 31, 2015 at 1:43 pm

UPDATE: Jan 31 2015:

.. I have spoken at length with Saul Ornelas, one of 3 owners of the Hill-Top. Saul was very forthcoming about his history with the property and its current status. evidently he used to work there back in the day, mainly the ticket booth but he said he learned quite a bit on how the place operated. He and his partners bought the Hill-Top in 1995 and ran it for a few years until leasing it to an acquaintance who mismanaged it badly, it ultimately had to close in 2001.

.. Not long after that someone from the county govt. demanded he bulldoze the place due to being in such disrepair. Saul had the electricity shut off and even had a wrecking crew scheduled when another person from the same office called imploring him to SAVE the Hill-Top(!) All of this transpired over the course of a couple of years. once the order to demolish was rescinded that left him free to reopen it, but now ComEd won’t restore power because nothing is up to code.

.. Saul says the concession building is in really bad shape. vandals have broken in over the years and have trashed the place, ripped out fixtures, any chances of getting a license to prepare and sell cooked food would require a lot of renovation, all new equipment, and a ton of hoop jumping with the county for approval. Saul considered the idea of minimizing the concession stand if not eliminating it altogether. He claims that while it’s a big revenue maker it also has its complications (i.e. code inspections, equipment to maintain, etc.) and requires 3 to 4 employees to run. He claims if concession food was eliminated it would cut operation staff in half. He also claims so many people bring their own food and drinks anyway, that it would be a small sacrifice. I’d love it if they could at least sell food like hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, pizza (from frozen), candy, etc. no grille. keep it simple.

.. We only briefly discussed the necessity of upgrading the projection system to digital as well as the sound to short broadcast. Another big expense to deal with but definitely worth doing.

.. All that said, Saul still loves the idea of the Hill-Top reopening someday. He still lives and works in the area and he sees people all the time who ask him about it. Clearly they have fond memories too and want to see it happen. He seemed intrigued by my mention of the 355 exit at Maple Rd to the east and was convinced that the easy access could be a game changer with attendance, especially with the advent of social media.

MichaelKilgore on March 1, 2019 at 2:33 pm

Based on its absence in the Theatre Catalog the year before, there’s a decent chance that this drive-in opened in 1949. The “Hilltop” debuted in the 1949-50 Theatre Catalog, exec: Rube Levine. By the 1952 edition, the name had changed to two words and the exec had changed to H. and E. Balaban Ct.

In its first drive-in list, for the 1950-51 edition, the Motion Picture Almanac listed three drive-ins in Joliet: the Belair (capacity 1000); the Hamilton, capacity “500-600”, owner Hiltop(sic?) Drive-In Theatre, Inc.; and the Hill Top, no owner or capacity mentioned.

Both the Hamilton and Hill Top (capacity 500) were listed in the 1952-53 edition’s drive-in list as owned by H. & E. Balaban Circuit. But the theatre circuit listing for Balaban, H. & E. Corp. showed the “Hilltop” as its only drive-in. I wonder what confused the MPA into thinking there had been a Hamilton Drive-In, and based on the Theatre Catalog listings, I doubt that the Hamilton ever existed.

dallasmovietheaters on May 9, 2019 at 5:28 pm

Edward J. Nelson of the Ballantyne Co. architectural sketch in photos

MichaelKilgore on June 17, 2019 at 5:40 pm

The Star of Tinley Park wrote on Aug. 22, 1963 that the “Hilltop” was celebrating its birthday Aug. 23-25. “Five years ago the theatre was transferred from the impersonal step-child operation of a large absentee theatre chain to the family style management of a neighbor.”

Owner manager Irwin S. Joseph said he was building a beach and showing the movie Beach Party that weekend.

On July 15, 2001, apparently not long before the abrupt closure, The Star returned to the “Hill-Top” with an affectionate look at one of the few remaining drive-ins. It was open Fridays through Sundays and often filled to its 500-car capacity on Saturday nights.

MichaelKilgore on July 14, 2019 at 12:51 pm

The Aug. 20, 1949 issue of Showmen’s Trade Review reported, “Rube Levin’s 700-car Hilltop Drive-In near Joliet has opened with Richard Kamens as manager.”

According to Chuck’s Photo Spot, David Friedman and Irwin Joseph bought the Hill-Top in the late summer of 1959.

Friedman’s book about the Hill-Top and much more, A Youth In Babylon, is currently available at the Internet Archive.

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