South #1 Drive-In

S.E. Maynard Road and E. Chatham Street,
Cary, NC 27511

250 cars

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Additional Info

Previous Names: Car-Ral Drive-In

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South #1 Drive-In

Located at the corner of S.E. Maynard Road & E. Chatham Street. The Car-Ral Drive-In was opened on July 10, 1948 with Robert Paige in “Red Stallion”. Around 1955 it was renamed South #1 Drive-In, and was operated by J.T. McSwain. It was closed in 1975.

Contributed by Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 6 comments)

Drive-In 54
Drive-In 54 on December 3, 2013 at 3:31 pm

I emailed the library and here is the answer:

“I believe we have found a little more information on the Car-Ral Drive-In Theatre. According to an advertisement from the Raleigh News & Observer from August 1st, 1948, the location of the theatre was "US No. 1 South Opposite WPTF Towers”, which are near East Chatham Street in Cary today, just south of what is now NC 54 (if my geography is correct, which is often a shaky proposition) . Another article from the News & Observer of May 18, 1952 has a picture of the damage done by heavy winds ,forcing the drive-in to close temporarily. An ad from the October 15, 1953 News and Observer shows the theatre having reopened as “South #1 Drive-In Theatre”. The fact that the new name is a reflection of the location of the Car-Ral’s location leads me to believe that they were the same theater."

In looking aerial from 1964 (bad picture and TOPO maps show nothing)there is something showing. Since it was a small DI maybe that is it??

eburleso on April 23, 2015 at 8:54 pm

Hi, If you need info on this Drive-in, I can give you a complete history and all her dirty little secrets, because I grew up and lived at this place until I escaped in 1963. The drive-in closed in 1963, not 1975. Maynard Road did not exist then, it sat on the south side of Hwy 1/64 which is now called Chatham St. It was owned and operated by a pedophile named J.T. McSwain who died in 1975. The drive-in was converted into a trailer park which is still there in 2015. Below is a short story of the wonderful/terrible place.

The Concession Stand

The squat, two-story building standing today is an atrocious mixture of unplanned metamorphosis; yet, it appears as though its gaudy existence is absolutely necessary for the peaceful harmony of this place. Within the building’s walls are three functional apartments holding lives filled with hopes and dreams. Along with the new tenants, dwelling within, I wonder if this old structure remains home to the unaccountable score of heartbreaks and fond memories of long ago. It is conceivable that the original designer of this structure would scarcely recognize his creation if he viewed it now, as I am doing, on this cold and wet spring morning. Mature red maples and noble gray poplar trees, which I helped plant years before, are embracing the stained brick walls with their gnarled limbs. Like planting the young sapling much too close to the building years before, I never realized that what was young and innocent once would someday grow to become oppressive and threatening with time. Drops of cold rain are dripping from the budding leaves and old overhangs onto the blooming azaleas crowding the base of the walls, nourishing them into a rainbow of bright reds and pale pinks. Barely a sound can be heard except the soft patter of dripping water. A brooding overcast sky hangs heavily above, so low that it appears to swallow the ground and it mutes all the sounds of existence, suspending everything in time, another time. Originally, three of the building’s walls were constructed of bare concrete block. It was capped with a flat, tar paper roof and fronted with huge plate glass windows that ran across the entire length of the building stretching from the roof to the floor. In its prime the building’s massive windows were always plastered with colorful movie posters of coming attractions and faded pictures of the treats on sale inside. The tiny, single story structure held a small office, two restrooms, and a marble concession bar. It sat forlornly, twenty or so feet from the banks of a muddy pond that teamed in the summer with jumping silver bream and yellow-bellied perch. During lazy, late summer afternoons both young and old would-be anglers passed the time by tossing lines and drowning bait in the tranquil waters while waiting for the movies to begin. As I stand here in the silence of my mind I am watching, waiting, soaking up the sights, and wringing out the memories, I wonder to myself. I wonder if the dreamer, the schemer, and architect of this building envisioned where his thoughts and plans would eventually lead. Did he anticipate the consequences his actions would have on the lives of those he touched? Could he have guessed what this building, the concession stand, would become and the effects it would have on so many lives? Did he have the slightest awareness of the pain and despair that he inflicted within its walls or the laughter that he caused to reverberate out its doors? Was he conscious of the secrets that would forever haunt the memories of those whom he welcomed across its thresholds? Some of those memories are mine. Some are filled with the happiness of hope, the promise of a brighter tomorrow; others are dark and illusive, following me with troubles and leading me to places of guilt, shame, and pain. The first time I laid eyes on this deceptive structure, it sat humble and alone in the bright sunlight of a warm, spring Carolina day. It sat humble and silent and seemed as though it was about to be swallowed by what appeared to be an enormous lake. Through the innocence of my twelve-year-old eyes the world and this building seemed more than I could possibly behold. It sat illusory in it size and was so much more than I could ever imagine. It stood mute, hiding timidly in the brightness of day, but at night it transformed itself into a brilliant beacon of distraction in the darkness of human lives. When the sun fell behind the pines, the concession stand came to life with the smell of hot buttered popcorn drifting out its doors and onto the warm night air. Reflections from the twin Mighty Ninety’s projectors blasting Maggie and Brick’s torrid love affair on the giant screen for all the world to see burst through the plate glass windows as the movie fans descended on the concession stand for icy cherry Cokes, sizzling French fries, grilled hot dogs, and thick, creamy chocolate shakes. The building was born from humble wood and earthly block for the glitter, tinsel, and make believe of the Hollywood. But, at its core lay the heart of a sinister chameleon basking in the adulation, laying in wait for its next victim. The building’s owner, JT, said he needed someone to gather the trash discarded on the field by the drive-in theater’s patrons. He explained the details of the job as I kicked the red clay from my bare feet and the last of the six grade and foster life from my thoughts. “It was a job for a young boy,” he added smartly as he leaned over and pushed the passenger door open. What he forgot to say was that it was a job for an innocent boy with an impressionable mind who needed somewhere to belong, a young innocent soul whose bright hungry eyes overshadowed the dirty shorts and faded tee shirt he wore. A sly grin crossed the man’s face as he pulled the orange and black fifty-seven Chevy from the side of the road and headed towards Cary and a different world. “Could you use a cheeseburger,” he said as I dusted off my hands and placed the last of the trash in to the waste bin. Two burgers were sizzling on the griddle. He must have stood lurking and watching me from behind those beautiful windows. “How about some mayo on it? He asked. I like it that way,” he added without waiting for my reply. My head nodded in anxious anticipation as he slathered mayonnaise across the toasted buns. I would have eaten the meat raw if that had been his preference. My stomach was hungry for food, but my heart was starved for hope and acceptance. He fed me there in the concession stand, fried that cheeseburger right before my eyes as I slowly twisted back and forth on the stool behind the cash register all the while taking in the sights and sounds of my new and exciting world. I can still smell the sizzling grease and hear the pop of the cheese as it slowly melted and bubbled down the sides of the meat onto the hot griddle. The attention from this man was my nourishment, it fed me and it consumed me. Over the years, the concession stand and I grew older. This old building and I grew together, we loved together, we hurt together, and we shared the hurtful secrets of our lives. One needed bricks, mortar, and timber to become strong; the other thirsted for truth, compassion, and love. Neither of us received what we needed to grow strong or in peaceful harmony with the world. New walls were thrown up and more believable lies were added to hide the shameful intent of the owner. The beautiful sparkling windows became Bon Ami covered lies and we both took on new faces and facades. Our eyes on the world began to blur with untruths and our hearts ached with unguided maturity and lonesome despair. We have grown up now and we have grown old; grown up to hide among the grey poplar, red maple, and razor wire. Gone are the sweets and treats; gone are the dreams we once shared. The concession stand no longer fills the bellies of innocent children while cinemascopic make-believe dances in their heads. Instead, the muddy water outback holds that little band of hopeful gold and the rest of my soul is buried somewhere in that overgrown mausoleum. One blink and it is all gone, but its still there, lurking in my mind, drawing me near. I wonder if he knew, I wonder if he cared.

NanYoung on September 27, 2016 at 6:09 am

This comment is posted in reference to posting by member eburleso posted on this site referencing movie theatres across the United States. His comment was dated April 23, 2015 and reflects on his knowledge of the Drive-in movie theatre in Cary, North Carolina and its owner, J. T. McSwain.

I found the writings of the author to be extremely knowledgeable, personal and precise. I, too, had met J. T. McSwain, only once in my life, at the personal request of Edward Spirn Burleson. It was in the latter part of the 1960’s.

I am a website designer and I often research various articles on many topics. I came across this article in my research and realized, after reading it several times, that I actually knew the parties involved. You see, I was married to the author in the late sixties. We went our separate ways, and I moved to the State of New York and never heard from him again.

After so many years, I often thought about what happened to him. I never knew, nor did he ever convey to me, the turmoil that he had experienced at the hands of this pedophile. He kept it, as his article references, a deep dark secret. Those times are almost 50 years now. What a dark shadow to live through and carry throughout anyone’s life. What I read in his posting has given me, finally, an understanding of who he was when I married him. I wish him well.

Nan Young

I am in hopes that the author, who so intimately shared his re-visit to the trailer park and movie theatre, has a certain peace of mind, after physically standing in front of the buildings and

rivest266 on April 30, 2020 at 6:33 pm

The Car-Ral Drive-In theatre opened on July 10th, 1948 with “Red Stallion”. Grand opening ad posted.

Kenmore on April 30, 2020 at 8:24 pm

The 1964 aerial shows no indication of a drive-in at the location. I understand that the drive-in may have been closed and demolished. But unless it was quite tiny, the problem with it being the trailer park is all the trees that are seen in the 1964 aerial.

You can raze a drive-in to the ground, but trees take several years to get to be that size. So, unless it was like a 50 – 75 car drive-in, I’m going to need more information on where it was located because an aerial one year after closing should show it even if it became a trailer park.

rivest266 on May 11, 2020 at 8:18 pm

Reopened on October 14th, 1953. Grand opening ad posted. Newspaper ads stopped in 1958.

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