On June 6, 1933, The first drive-in movie theater opened in Camden, New Jersey, with the slogan, “The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.” Although the outdoor theater closed after just three years, it inspired an industry that peaked at around 4,000 drive-ins during the late 1950s and early 1960s. At their height some drive-ins attracted guests with petting zoos, special guests, and music acts, and hosted religious services on Sunday mornings. But over time, rising real estate costs, difficulty operating during harsh weather conditions, the adoption of daylight savings time, and the advancement of home entertainment systems led many drive-in theaters to go “dark.” Today drive-ins are a scarce novelty, with just a handful of successful theaters catering mostly to families and to viewers’ sense of nostalgia.
I’ve only been to a drive-in theater once, when I was a teenager vacationing with my parents in New England. I remember watching a double feature from the back seat of the car and thinking how “neat” the experience was, and how much “neater” it would have been to go to a drive-in during the height of their popularity. I’ve always wished there was a drive-in theater closer to home, and have even tried to talk my parents into creating a faux drive-in in the empty field behind their house. Over the years I’ve had to settle for the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater restaurant in Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios. Whenever I vacation at the Disney Parks I love to eat at this little indoor dive — fashioned to look like an outdoor drive-in, you eat in a 1950s convertible under the twilight of engineered stars, with an array of authentic drive-in promotions and previews to entertain you during your meal.
Chris patronized a local drive-in when he was in college in West Virginia and, like me, enjoyed the experience. So it was with fond memories that we’ve looked forward to today’s “unofficial” for the past few weeks. We located an operational drive-in, the Family Drive-In Theater, in Stephens City, Virginia, less than two hours from home. Originally we’d planned to attend the first movie of tonight’s double feature, but when we went online to reserve our tickets this afternoon the theater’s information had been updated to postpone their seven day schedule until next week.