Monday, July 8, 2013

Old Photos of Life at the Drive-In Theater - a Vanishing American Pastime

It’s been 80 years since a New Jersey auto-parts store manager named Richard Hollingshead Jr. hit upon the idea of a drive-in theater. The wonder of Hollingshead’s concept, of course — as with all of the world’s greatest, most inspired, most life-affirming inventions — is that, despite how obvious it seems in retrospect, no one had thought of it before. Or, if anyone did think of it before, they hadn’t bothered to get a patent on the idea, as Hollingshead did on May 16, 1933. And no one had the wherewithal to actually envision, build and then open to the public this modern marvel, as Hollingshead and three other investors did when they cut the ribbon on the world’s first drive-in movie theater in Camden, New Jersey, on June 6, 1933.

Here, 80 years after the drive-in’s first appearance on the American landscape, LIFE.com offers a series of photos celebrating the ingenious confluence of two of America’s abiding obsessions: movies and cars. At the height of their popularity in the 1950s and ’60s, there were roughly 4,000 drive-in theaters across the U.S.; today, that number is closer to 400, with more closing every year.

Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in a scene from Beach Blanket Bingo, shown at a drive-in movie theater in Florida, 1965

Drive-in theater, Chicago, 1951

Customers arriving by car at a 'fly-in drive-in' theater, New Jersey, 1949

Usher, drive-in theater, San Francisco, 1948

Drive-in theater, Chicago, 1951

Drive-in theater, Los Angeles, 1949

Drive-in theater, San Francisco, 1948

Drive-in theater, San Francisco, 1948

Drive-in theater, Chicago, 1951

Gilmore Island, Los Angeles, 1949

Gilmore Island, Los Angeles, 1949

Drive-in theater, Connecticut, 1955

As a publicity stunt Les Davis (on top of the screen) lives in a tent on top of a drive-in movie screen in 1955 Connecticut

Rancho Drive-in Theater, San Francisco, 1948

A Joel McCrea movie at the Rancho Drive-in Theater, San Francisco, 1948

Drive-in theater, San Francisco, 1948

Drive-in theater, San Francisco, 1948

Drive-in theater, San Francisco, 1948

Kids enjoy one of the four double-seated glider swings in the mini-playground at the Rancho Drive-In Theater, San Francisco, 1948

Aerial view of a 'fly-in drive-in theater,' with plane in parking lot, 1949

(Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)

1 comment:

  1. These photos were fantastic...thank you for posting!

    ReplyDelete