Jesse James Family Drive-In
521 S. Reynolds Road,
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Operated by: Jack Armstrong Circuit
Previous Names: Jesse James Drive-In
One of Toledo, Ohio’s most remembered drive-in theatres was the Jesse James Drive-In. It opened on June 4, 1953 screen the 1952 western “Springfield Rifle” with Gary Cooper and Phyllis Thaxter. The second feature was the 1952 comedy-musical “Somebody Loves Me” with Betty Hutton and Ralph Meeker.
The new airer was opened by a partnership of Harold James (a Toledo attorney), Jack Armstrong (of the Jack Armstrong circuit) and Ernest Walters from North Baltimore, Ohio. DBA Jesse James Enterprises Inc. The name ‘Jesse James Drive-In’ came from Harold James’s nickname which was ‘Jesse’. Charles M. Mayhugh was the manager when it opened. In 1954, Thor Hauschild was the manager. The grand opening featured free balloons, coffee & doughnuts, pony rides, plus the first 5,000 cars were entitled to a free Alemite grease job for their cars. The drive-in had a screen the size of 60ft x 45ft. It got replaced in August of 1954, by a 100ft x 40ft CinemaScope screen. A capacity for 1,100 cars with 15 ramps covered 47 acres of land. James leased the land from the former New York Central Railroad and later on he bought the property from the railroad. Prior to the opening of the Jesse James Drive-In, the Telegraph Drive-In was the area’s largest drive-in with a capacity for 800-cars. All projection equipment was furnished and installed by Al Boudouris dba Theatre Equipment Co. This included Century water-cooled projectors, Century sound, and Strong Super “135” projection arc lamps.
The layout and design of the new single screen drive-in was done by architects Sanzenbacher, Morris and Taylor. It was proposed to design the layout so if Harold James ever wanted to add another screen tower, parking ramps and concession/projector building so the Jesse James could be a twin drive-in theatre he could do that. The would never happen, because the Toledo area had eight drive-in theatres in the late 1950’s. I have always wondered why the drive-in looked the way it was. This is the answer… On July 6, 1953, the Jesse James Drive-In was the first drive-in theatre in the Cleveland area to screen a 3D picture. The feature was “House of Wax, starring Vincent price, and it was reported that 3,000 to 4,000 cars were turned away because of the full parking ramps. The amount of cars turned away sound dubious to me. The 3D equipment was supplied by Theatre Equipment Co. and National Theatre Supply. NTS supplied all 3D equipment which included interlocks, filters, large reels and a painted silver screen. The silver screen would give the proper light for 3D
They also hosted the Lutheran Men’s League of Greater Toledo for Sunday church services. for many years starting in 1953. On November 21, 1962, the concession stand caught fire, but the projection room was protected by fire doors and escaped damage. Damage was estimated at $15,000. Firemen said the blaze started in the center of the building where the popcorn machine and vending machines were located. Manager Thor Hauschild did say the shows scheduled for Thanksgiving Day will go on as scheduled.
Drive-in theatres were changing since 1953, along with peoples' taste in movies, which is why James decided to close the theatre. They were showing more risqué/violent movies toward the end and he was considered to be a pretty conservative person by 1980’s standards. According to James, an early clue came to get out came when a woman complained that while driving past the drive-in she was able to see large nude figures on the screen. Since he was the last surviving partner of the Jesse James Enterprises, he decided to close it and sell the land. On October 10, 1980, the last movies that played were “The Warriors” starring Michael Beck and American Gigolo" starring Richard Gere. The neon marquee was shut off for good. In 1981, the property was sold and the Jesse James Drive-In was demolished and re-zoned for commercial use. The Jesse James Plaza strip mall and Willowbrook Place, which is a mobile home park, were built on the site. James was pleased when the strip mall was going to be called the Jesse James Plaza. When you discuss drive-in theatres in Toledo, OH, the Jesse James Drive-In always comes up in the conversation with its iconic neon marquee with the horse-riding cowboy on it.
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