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On June 6, 1933 Richard Hollingshead opened the first patented drive-in theatre in Camden, New Jersey. Drivers paid just 25 cents per vehicle to watch the British film Wives Beware. The idea to watch movies outdoors wasn't anything new. People watched silent films on screens set up at the beach. Partial drive-in theatres that held both seated patrons and cars existed earlier on as well.
But the first patented drive-in was actually created to solve a problem. Hollingshead's mother-in-law didn't find theatre seating comfortable. He had her sit in a car with a projector on the hood and tied two sheets to a tree in his yard. After a few years of experimentation, Hollingshead patented his concept.
The concept of drive-ins didn't take off until the in-car speaker did in the 1940's. By 1958, the number of drive-ins peaked at 4,063 in the United States. In the 1970's many people downsized their vehicles during the oil crisis to save money on fuel. This led to moviegoers having less room in their car seats and a worse viewing experience. To compensate, drive-ins shifted away from family-friendly content to more adult content like horror slashers.
The main issue drive-ins faced in the early days was scheduling. Indoor theatres didn't have to worry about natural elements and could show one film six times a day, instead of only at night. Others attribute the price of land as the key factor in the decline of drive-in theatres. Drive-ins were usually built on the outskirts of a city. As the city began to grow the land became valuable. It became practical for owners to sell their land to developers instead of operating.
Today, only 36 drive-in theatres remain across Canada and roughly 400 in the United States. What was once a common staple is now a niche industry, operating seasonally when they can. Some drive-ins have diversified by adding other activities to their property like go karting or mini golf. Other businesses travel and bring an outdoor theatre experience to communities for special events.
We are proud to bring Prince Rupert a socially distanced drive-in this August. Although we were hoping to make this an open event for the entire community, COVID-19 restrictions have put a limit of 50 vehicles at drive-in theatres. We hope to do more community events in the future when it is safe to do so.