Four years ago I was featured in Southwest magazine because I had an idea that the drive-in was about to make a resurgence. As a result of that article I received a ton of calls and email by communities and drive-in fans hoping that I was right. People really wanted to see drive-ins come back…..and in a big way. One of those emails was from a large waterpark operator located in Texas. I was intrigued because I held the thought and still do that, that drive-ins should be one of many attractions in a facility. I also thought that a giant screen located in a waterpark was more than compelling.
This week I am in Texas, building that drive-in, or since it is being built in the middle of a lagoon we are calling a dive-in. The thing that makes me most proud is that we are adding to a significant part of Americana, and that we are providing an opportunity to the next generation to watch a movie under the stars.
In the 1950s, more than 4,000 drive-ins were spread out across America. At that time Texas had the most, hosting nearly 400. But times have unfortunately changed. Original owners passed on. Retail opportunities gobbled up available land, and property once on The outskirts of a town suddenly became much more profitable. My efforts are part of minor resurgence of drive-in. Some folks, some way too young to remember drive-ins during their heyday are resurrecting their hometown monoliths. Others are starting from scratch.
These newly built drive-ins are finding a more than waiting audience. Many times audiences feel constrained in traditional multiplexes and do not really enjoy the present movie going experience. In a drive-in you can use your cell phone, talk loudly, and let your kids run amok. Smokers can light up, all manner of wheeled and non wheeled vehicles are welcomed. Classic cars rallies often occur when movies such as “American Hot Wax” or “American Graffiti” play.
Unlike in the past, the new selection of movies is often first-run releases. With it double feature entertainment and reasonably priced food, a night at the drive-in is much less expensive than at the multiplex. Kids can be tucked in back seats and covered with a blanket when drowsy. Teenagers can pile into the back of a pickup. Couples can snuggle and so on.
Terre Haute Indiana’s Moon Lite Drive which opened on September 22, 2018. Even though the Moon Lite Drive-in is being opened in 2018, it is not being built new from the ground up. The Moon Lite is actually a re-imagining of the old Terre Haute Drive-in which was first opened in 1958 but sadly closed in 1988. It sat unattended from 1988 until 2017 when it was purchased by the KJB Theater chain which owns several theaters including another drive-in the rather amazing Starlight Drive-in in
Bloomington, Indiana. KJB Theaters undertook to refurbish the original 40′ x 80′ screen but built a new concession stand, projection booth and box office. The Moon Lite is a single screen drive-in which can hold about 555 cars. It will be open seasonally from about April thru September. The opening of the drive-in has attracted a huge amount of excitement.
Down in Texas 33 year old Chris Denny opened the two-screen Doc’s Drive In Theatre on the east side of Buda Texas with a pretty compelling set of double features. “The Addams Family” and the”Goonies” on one screen, and “Rear Window” and “The Addams Family” on the other. Denny was motivated by the the opinion that traditional theaters had too many rules. After two years working hard on the project, Mr. Denny strongly feels he’ll be able to attract younger and family-oriented audiences that are just plain tired of the stringent environments now holding sway at movie theaters. Here is hoping he is right.
The first drive-in theater opened in New Jersey in 1933, according to Smithsonian Magazine, and the popularity of the attractions grew over the next two decades, peaking at 4,063 theaters across the country in 1958. Just 321 drive-ins exist today, according to figures from the National Association of Theater Owners.
Drive-ins were born out of the suburbanization of America; They enjoyed several decades of deep popularity, but began to decline with the rise of shopping malls and their child, multiplex cinemas. But the memories remain and the longing for walking a movie under the stars still lives within the soul of America.
On the North End of Padre Island, adjacent to Corpus Christi, Diamond Beach Holdings operates a Schlitterbahn Waterpark. The 60 acre park serves up a series of world class attractions, including one the the world’s largest lazy rivers. Diamond Beach in a vibrant attempt to increase their season decided that the pleasant nights throughout the year would be a natural of a full resort on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. On November 3rd , the drive-in/dive-opens and one of the shining diamonds of Americana.
I now have to go back to scrubbing the concession stand….ah show business.