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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Early Days Of Watching On Wheels


Chicago Gets A Mammoth Drive-In

Was there "Star-Spangled Moonlit Romance" to be had at Chicago's outlying and so-called World's Largest Drive-In? It was huge to be sure, covering twenty acres with room for 1,160 cars. Being the town's first, and for several years only, outdoor showplace, there was no need for owner Nate Barger to call it anything other than "Drive-In" for his public to know the score. Opening night was 6/12/41. "Girl ushers on bicycles" guided customer cars to spaces provided. They'd also bring your refreshments on request. Service station attendants were on hand to check tires, gas, and oil during the show. Underground speakers piped sound through grilled manholes. Quality was pretty awful and had a metallic tinge for coming from under vehicles, with distortion that entailed. If it rained hard enough, the sound would fritz out altogether. Barger was lucky to get his Drive-In up and running when he did, because the war would put paid to further construction of such venues for a duration. As of 10/24/41 and a Film Daily survey, there were ninety "open-air stands" operating in the US. Fifty more drive-ins were "under license for construction and will be put in operation during 1942," said the trade, but those plans went on ice thanks to Pearl Harbor. For the record, North Carolina had three drive-ins at this time (Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro). Within ten more years, and attendant boom in outdoor theatre construction, my small-town would itself have three operating ozoners.

1 Comments:

Blogger aldi said...

Always wanted to go to a drive-in but English weather doesn't allow for them. A guy called Richard M Hollingshead Jr patented the first drive-in after experimenting with a screen in his backyard. From Wikipedia:

"Hollingshead's drive-in opened in New Jersey June 6, 1933, on Admiral Wilson Boulevard in Pennsauken. It offered 400 slots and a 40 by 50 ft (12 by 15 m) screen."

First movie shown was Wives Beware (aka Two White Arms), a 1932 movie with Adolphe Menjou. The place folded after 3 years but the seed he planted took root. Incredibly at the peak of their popularity drive-ins constituted 25% of the nation's screens. I found that figure astonishing. By 2013 that had shrunk to 1.5%. It does please me that there are still some left!

10:03 AM  

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