Y & W Drive-In
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Located in the township of Merrillville near Gary, IN. The Y & W drive-in opened as a single screen in May 1953, just off of the main strip in the town. It’s large sign could be sign for blocks when lit up. The first screen could hold 940 cars. There was a playground on the grounds which included a small zoo which mostly had monkeys.
Every Friday night through the late-1970’s screen 1 would have lucky Banko which was basically bingo. You got your card when you bought your ticket and at intermission an announcer would read off numbers over the speakers. Play continued until all the prizes were handed out. The prizes weren’t extravagent but my one time as a winner won me a coffee maker which lasted for years.
In 1971 a decidedly smaller second screen was opened to the south of screen 1 which held 500 cars. When passing the drive-in on Broadway you could easily see the movies on each screen. The drive-in was hugely popular and even stayed open all year around through 1978. Every holiday there was a terrific fireworks show. Every New Year’s Eve screen 1 would have a dusk to dawn show with free coffee, donuts, and passes to the few who managed to make it through the night.
In 1981, a third and much smaller screen opened right behind screen 2 and held 300 cars. Still again the third screen was far enough back that you could see it from Broadway. Up until the late-1980’s each screen presented a triple feature each Friday and Saturday and a double feature the rest of the week during the season. I can remember a great triple feature of “Aliens”, “The Fly”, and “Fright Night”.
In the 1990’s, attendance had dwindled badly and gang activity had increased. After the 1997 season the Y & W closed for good. In the winter of 2002 I snuck onto the grounds one night and took a tour. The theater is in terrible condition. Weeds in screen 2 are almost five feet high and the other two screens have weeds everywhere as well. Screen 2 is peeling badly though screens 1 and 3 looked remarkably intact. The two concession stands and all three projectionist booths were badly damaged by vandals.
In 2002, the marquee was sold and removed and every time I drive by it breaks my heart to see how badly it looks. Sadly it would probably cost much too much to renovate but there is always hope.
As of March, 2004, the drive-in has been demolished.
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