Thunderbird Drive-In

3501 Hamilton Avenue,
St. Louis, MO 63102

Unfavorite 2 people favorited this theater

Showing 18 comments

Noir
Noir on September 14, 2013 at 5:14 pm

Great place. The drive up to it seemed narrow and long. I remember almost an entirely African-American audience from 1972-1974.Before that it is vague. I remember the films with black stars—I do not remember what we saw—-Shaft, Superfly, Grier, Buck and the Preacher, …

This area was completely surrounded by a majority African-American community and you could access it from black areas with out passing through non-black areas via Highway 70 to Goodfellow, drive down Natural Bridge from Union or Kingshighway, drive from Kienlen…safe physical access mattered.

It was called “The Bird.”
Being from the city, Thunderbird was a drink, like Rosie O'Grady, Freight Train,or Brass Monkey.

Next door: I liked the Goody Goody Restaurant. I liked Sam the Watermelon man There was a liquor store across the street. I love Skateking in 1970’s 1980’s and 1990’s—-real DJ’s, real mixes, real dancing with couples, Soul Train line on skates, flips and jumps, slow songs, fast songs a real vibrant sycopated dance floor. Fabulous urban line dancing on skates—you name it. Christian nite, old school for elders night and so on. Groups use to travel from Skateking to other rinks around the country—New York, Atlanta, Detroit—-and people use to ask—elsewhere —about Skateking. Tom Casevelli Ford was there on Goodfellow. Old reserve Army Barracks and Small Ammunition plant.

After thunderbird closed,
North Twin was the only drive-in left within range.

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on October 5, 2012 at 11:20 pm

Well…the owner of the aforementioned FB page had a change of heart. Here’s the new link: https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/204180702979678/

I DARE anybody to find 2001 ads in the Thunderbird section!

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on June 22, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Just say no…

Anyway, the FB site has been stripped of its content because the owner did not want to switch to the new “Timeline” format. In the 2 ½ years since your previous comment, the folks on this forum both visited the former page and verified its content before the page was stripped.

Ptah
Ptah on April 23, 2012 at 11:35 pm

Chris Utley… I realize that this is a relaxed forum… But posting a link to Facebook and what is generally considered to be a historical collage of bits and pieces is not considered to be an archive… The reference doesn’t have to be parenthetical but it does have to have some element of reference to the topic. Many have honed in on “2001 A Space Odyssey” it was released around April of 1968… Which would’ve certainly shone up in the drive-ins by August of that same year.

I assume when you say that there are tons of references to the Thunderbird Drive-In… You must mean in the terms of coming from “bizarro world” (a Superman reference) in which there is absolutely zero gravity in weight of references to the Thunderbird Drive-In… Or perhaps this is opposite day… When up is down… And left his right… Unless your link has been redacted or altered in some way there is absolutely no reference to the Thunderbird Drive-In… That I can see with my physical eyes… Perhaps I should try transcendental meditation… or soul travel… Or should I look with a divining rod… Or perhaps a seeing-eye dog…umm how about carbon dating….

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on June 17, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Here’s that link I was talking about earlier: St. Louis Flashback Movie & Drive-In Theatres

Tons of T-Bird ads. No 2001 in any of them.

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on January 20, 2011 at 12:19 pm

There’s a Facebook group dedicated to St. Louis area drive-ins & indoor theatres with tons of pictures of the Thunderbird and other drive-ins along with newspaper ads for each theatre. I’ve combed through the pics and ads of “The Bird” – not a trace of 2001 or Funny Girl to be found. But there are TONS of ads for horror flicks on that page.

Sorry if I don’t post the link…can’t access FB during the day.

TLSLOEWS
TLSLOEWS on March 2, 2010 at 4:57 pm

Allrighty them.

Norman Plant
Norman Plant on August 27, 2009 at 7:59 pm

Chris, in viewing other posts on this and other boards, I find your knowledge of the St Louis area, and particularly the north St Louis area, second to none. While I am a south side guy, I too remember looking regularly at the movie listings from that era and must agree with you about the type of movies that were showing in at the Thunderbird. Given the choice, I’ll take your recollections over anyone else’s “facts”.

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on August 14, 2009 at 6:17 pm

It’s very rare that I double post, but in this case I feel it’s necessary.

To remphasize the point of my post in question: I merely raised an issue about the film titles that you claim were shown there in the year 1977. I am also from St. Louis. Yes, my factual info is spotty since I was a child during the era in question. But I still have my childhood memories – of which I distinctly remember “The Bird” having obtained a reputation for featuring the aforementioned “schlocky, exploitation fare” at the theatre.

I also rely on childhood factoids from my family members who shared personal stories of my tiny tot years here watching Blaxploitation & Kung Fu flicks (1972 through its 1977 closing). I’ve heard stories about me almost breaking my neck trying to imitate my older cousins during intermissions of kung fu movies along with nervous aunts trying to cover my eyes during nude scenes in Blaxploitation flicks. There’s a photo online of The Bird’s marquee circa 1974 that supports my memory of these flicks.

The theatres I mentioned are where I personally saw many of the 1977 films mentioned. I cannot – and DID NOT! – speak about the films of the 1960’s that you mentioned. I believe that the good people you mentioned did see the flicks that you cited and have those great memories. Once again, I only raised a question about the films from 1977. Nothing more, nothing less.

I did not mean to offend.

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on August 14, 2009 at 4:56 pm

I was planning to respond to that diatribe…but JAlex’s posting of the final 3 weeks of film schedules at The Bird said it all. :)

For the record – my comments about “schlocky, exploitation fare” were directed towards the films you said showed there – NOT TOWARDS ANY SPECIFIC GROUP OF PEOPLE WHO LIVED IN THE SURROUNDING AREA.

JAlex
JAlex on August 12, 2009 at 7:03 pm

The final bill at the Thuderbird (or T-Bird), starting 10/26/77 and ending 10/30 was: “Worm Eaters” and “Corpse Grinders.” Before this the bill 10/19 to 10/25 was “Kung-Fu Brothers” and “Bruce Lee and I”; and the bill 10/12 to 10/18 was “Champion of Death” and “Blood Fingers.”

Ptah
Ptah on August 11, 2009 at 3:06 pm

Not that you protest too much… your initial review is dank and does not reflect a factual overview of the history and community of the Thunderbird Drive-In. Your comments have been reviewed by those who lived in (at the time) the newly constructed white brick apartments to the east of the screen.

The Yiddish film industry, addressing your schlocky, evil, nuisance reference, was far better known for the exploitation of the island descends of the West European North Atlantic. Immigrant American females indigenous to the northern islands a.k.a. the Irish and Scottish and British immigrant females were far more exploited sexually than any other immigrant group arriving in the Americas. The entire sexual exploitation industry was built on the backs of these young and middle-aged females. The point here is that in the 1960s and 1970s families who live in the area of the Thunderbird Drive-In had to pull their blinds and entertain their children with age appropriate activities before sending them to bed and school. The novelty of applying the same theme to Americans of Continental African descent and was short-lived and produced very few movies. The point here is that the prior demographic had its own phonographic, poorly produced, shoddily directed, celluloid abominations that solidified the theme of evil among this group. The volume of schlocky produced movies was not numerous enough to support two seasons at eight months each to supply daily drive-in theater viewing. It is well accepted that each group sees its own people in their best light even when they are evil as perceived by others. Think of the Original Americans and the nonindigenous American treaties for an example of how the truth is written and how it is perceived. The treaties still exist and can be reviewed. The same can be said for the Palestinian plight here in 2009.

The residents and parents of the apartment building differ with your perception and openly admit that during the last days movies were shown that supplied hope, virtue, and nobility and they could sit outside and watch the screen with the children. These parents now range in age between 50 and 75 and I am in contact with them. They do admit that the Thunderbird drive-in was in heavy rotation with the types and the themes of the movies were being displayed in an effort to attract business. They also say that during this time the Goody-Goody had shut down for a complete restoration before it reopened.

Morals and dogma are often viewed from philosophical perspectives… is quite possible that a few of the Thunderbird Drive-In management decisions were reflective of the incoming fight against the VCR in Betamax and later VHS and reflective of the changing technology that was all the rage for its convenience with the new incoming demographic.

During much of the time of this transition I was living in Petah Tikva, Israel and later Hong Kong/Kowloon teaching programming to the natives, but I am from St. Louis and can rely on these live-in sources as to the view of the last days of the Thunderbird Drive-In from their windows.

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on July 24, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Not to be a hater, but I question the validity of the 1977 titles listed being shown at “The Bird.” Holiday Drive-In, yes. Airway Drive-In. Even the St. Ann 4 Screen D/I, yes. But “The Rescuers” at the Thunderbird, I doubt very seriously, as by the time “The Bird” was closed, they’d switched to schlocky, exploitation fare.

Ptah
Ptah on July 24, 2009 at 3:27 pm

The Thunderbird Drive-In provided a wonderful family atmosphere for many years including those just before closing. The last movies that were shown there were Star Wars, Close Encounters, Smokey and the Bandit, Annie Hall, The Kentucky Fried Movie, Saturday Night Fever, The Spy Who Loved Me, and The Rescuers just to name a few.

Many years prior to the closing we were entertained with movie hits like Doctor Zhivago, Thunder Ball, The Bible, 2001 Space Odyssey, You Only Live Twice, The Dirty Dozen, To Sir with Love, Funny Girl, Bullitt, The Odd Couple, Valley of the Dolls, The Aristocrats, Airport … then of course there was the occasional R-rated movie… that exploited women of european descent, but this was a rare feature and shown only as the last movie.

The Thunderbird drive-in was located on the border of St. Louis City and St. Louis County, in an offstreet location that is accurately described as an industrial park. Much of the entertainment industry had a business somewhere near this location along Natural Bridge and up into Normandy. I recall a filling station being across from the Goody-Goody Restaurant, and a Dance Club slightly down and across the street. General Motors and the Corvette plant were two blocks away inside St. Louis city limits and many families connected to the General Motors plant were patrons of the Thunderbird drive-in.

I also recall when they constructed some new white brick apartments across from the Thunderbird drive-in some of the children and their visiting relatives told me that when the parents went to sleep… they would sneak out the window using lawn chairs (on the first level), run across the street and turn up the speakers in their pj’s, while aiming them at the new apartment complex. They would then climb back in the window and place lawn chairs on their bed, get snacks from the refrigerator and watch 2001 Space Odyssey and features like this. Good wholesome fun…

I seem to recall that they had a playground in the left rear corner for some time. The theater house itself was always clean and well-maintained, I recall my dates telling me that they like the restroom at the Thunderbird Drive-In.

JAlex
JAlex on September 12, 2008 at 1:22 pm

Operation closed October 30, 1977.

JAlex
JAlex on April 29, 2008 at 4:55 pm

Correct date of opening is July 3, 1959.

Architectural credit to Kramer & Harms.