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1948-49 Theatre Catalog, 7th Edition, Page 232 (221)

1948-49 Theatre Catalog, 7th Edition
1948-49 Theatre Catalog
1948-49 Theatre Catalog, 7th Edition, Page 232
Page 232

1948-49 Theatre Catalog, 7th Edition, Page 232

A New American Institution

Drive-In Theatres Express the Freedom and the Functionalism of Our Times

The golden age of the drive-in has dawned.

The theatre of the open road is clicking because it is as American as the old nickelodeon here by the highway.

The entire family, snug in the family car, can enjoy the life of Riley, seeing movies, munching popcorn, and swilling soda pop.

The open-air setting has the distinct attraction of being less stuffy than the conventional theatre. The head of the family may smoke in comfort, Mom wear what she happened to have on, and the kids get a good View of the proceedings from the back seat.

Young couples were among the first to find these after-dark surroundings especially beguiling. Any capers by cutups, on the other hand, are vigorously suppressed by patrons in adjoining cars and by attendants.

The drive-in seems to have been evolved for families with babies. More and more theatres are putting in bottle warming services in answer to an increasing clamor. This knocks the babysitter problem squarely on the head. Some folks even bring their dogs and cats to the show.

A complete cure of the parking headache causes an astonishingly large number of citizens who donit get around so well to turn up, some for their first movies in years. For one and all, handie capped or whole, the informal functionalism of the movies-in-your-car theatres is becoming increasingly the answer.

Idea Grows Look at the statistics:

There were only 300 drive-ins operating in this country at the start of 1948, a representative of R. M. Hollingshead, Jr., has declared. Yet a careful census by the authoritative Motion Picture Association in the fall of that same year listed some 743 then operating, with a total car capacity of 310,203. From this can be gained some evaluation of their rapid growth.

Hollingshead pioneered the motoristsi theatre idea in 1933 at Camden, N. J., through Park-In Theatres, Inc. He owns the basic patent, which covers the car aiming ramps. Although his inspiration was rather slow in catching on, the rattling good business done in recent years by existing driveeins and the construction everywhere humming on new ones has at last brought this type of theatre to public consciousness.

Americans are becoming more and more accustomed to the spectacle of long lines of automobiles, jeeps, trailers, and even people on horseback waiting to pull into a drive-in from alongside the highway. This is the picture from Lake George, N. Y., to Florida and the Pacific.


A general review of the progress of drive-in theatres t h r o u g h recent years, and the operational techniques which have progressed with them. Based on this progress, an effort is made to forecast the eventual number of first-class drive-in theatres that will be needed to adequately serve the entertainment needs of this special segment of the Nation.

Today it is reported that Ohio has more automobile theatres than any other state in the union. In the Cleveland exchange area alone, there are some 51 of these motion picture establishments. Cincinnati boasts of 53. A few authorities have set the national saturation point for drive-ins at the 1,500 mark. But who can tell?

Recent data indicates that the Minnee apolis-St. Paul area is due for one of the biggest drive-in booms. Here a company has been formed to build a number of 1000-car theatres. In addition, priVate parties are blocking out similar undertakings in the area and North and South Dakota, northern Iowa, North Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Texas are also feeling the boom.

So an idea sweeps the land, its popularity dictated by a motorized age. The formula is not entirely new. In South America, open air theatres are general, but America is the first country to adopt the idea for an audience in automobiles.

Large Screen

The screen is larger than normal owing to the wide area covered by the audience. Sound is taken care of either by speakers at fixed points, in the older drive-ins, or by a speaker placed inside each car. With the in-car unit the motorist himself tunes in the picture.

Chiefly concerned with the family trade, outdoor exhibitors bill mostly action dramas, comedies, and musicals. Heavy sex stuff and the too-abnormal are side-stepped whenever possible. These exhibitors more than likely will Show slightly older products than the brick-and-mortar theatre men, although this is not always the case.

The staff of a drive-in is enormous by indoor standards. Each theatre has a crew of from 18 to 25 uniformed attendants. Their ranks include ushers, who greet each car and personally guide it to a ramp; part-time mechanics who cope with stalled-car situations, and personnel to flash instant notice of a patron's desire to see a concessioner.

Concessioners, incidentally, do a brisk business on the premises, Authoritative estimates indicate that on the first show the concessionseice cream, popcorn, and

candy, bring in about 40 cents per car. Confection prices are uniformly higher, and sometimes double that of regular theatres. There are drive-ins employing jeeps, motor scooters, and tricycles to cover the vast distances of the theatre.

Proven Principles

Many horrible obstacles will arise to defeat the would-be drive-in builder should he fail to follow a few proven principles of outdoor theatre construction.

Chief among these is the selection of the spot for his enterprise. The cards are stacked against the man who attempts to set up a drive-in on rugged terrain, in an area of fog or mosquito infested swamplands, or on a site populated by less than 10,000 persons within a 10-mile radius, or too distant from a heavily-travelled highway.

The theatre man will be endlessly digging drainage ditches and sewer trenches. The motion picture equipment people have advanced schemes to circumvent these dangers, and, in the company of a civil engineer. will be only too glad to be called in for consultation.

Anything but level land or, better still, gently sloping land, is regarded by them as a poor risk. Where too drastic physical changes are required, the construction cost will run away with the project.

They also will point up the advantages of easy access to a threeephase electric power line and the desirability of city water and sewer connections wherever possible.

They will insist that the would-be drive-in operator pay a visit to the local zoning boards and traHic control authorities to make absolutely certain that a driveein will be permitted in the neighborhood.

But given a good location, good equipment and good management there is a monetary return in drive-in theatre operation that no bricks-and-mortar theatre can ever approach. This is best proved by data, again from the M.P.A. census, that only 13 with total car capacity of 3175 were unable to make the grade and folded. This would also indicate that the smaller (average 244 cars) is the harder to make pay.


In the pages that follow will be found more up-to-date, factual data on the design, construction, equipment, maintenance and management techniques of drive-in theatres, than has ever previously been published in any one periodical. All is the result of a carefully , planned effort to record and disseminate needed knowledge. And all refiects the birth and growing pains of a new and husky American institution.
1948-49 Theatre Catalog, 7th Edition, Page 232