to a movie at a modern indoor theater is about the movie. Going
to a movie at the drive-in was about girls, hanging out with friends
and showing off your new set of mud grips. If you actually watched
Randolph Scott plug the bad guy and then give the schoolmarm a kiss
that could water a horse, so much the better.
The drive-in was about the people and the atmosphere. The movie
was often incidental.
Even if it was a stinker it was better than staying home and watching
the 2 snowy channels on your black and white TV set. You even had
to get off the couch to change the channel.
The American drive-in movie craze began in the 1930s. A whole culture
grew up around it.
The drive-in was a community event for all ages. Children played
on the swings in front of the giant screen. Older folks set up folding
chairs in front of their cars or parked their pickups backward and
sat on chairs in the bed. Some families brought sleeping bags for
You could bring your own food and beverages. The drive-in was the
original dinner and a movie.
Early arrivals got the preferred spots - front and center if you
wanted to watch the movie or the back row if you had other things
Time slowed down at the drive-in. There was no rigid schedule. Starting
times varied with the seasons. The projectionist had to wait for
mother-nature to turn down the house lights. The show began at dusk,
whenever that was.
Most of all the drive-in was about freedom. Your parents weren't
around. You were outdoors. You weren't confined to a seat. You don't
have to shut up for 2 hours. You could walk around, annoy people
in the other cars or toss a Frisbee with a friend.
drive-in was the 87 Drive-In Theater. It sat in a field next to
a peach orchard on what is now a vacant lot on the corner of Highway
87 and Friendship Lane.
| The 87 Drive-In
Theater in Fredericksburg taken in April 1949 - 2 months before it
Click on image to enlarge
Courtesy of the Gillespie County Historical Society
| The 87 Drive-In
opened to great fanfare on June 11, 1949. I don't know the name of
the movie that played that first night, but one of the early films
shown at the 87 Drive-In was the The Kissing Bandit starring
Frank Sinatra. I've been told the kissing on the screen was a drop
in the bucket compared to the lip action in the audience.
There was a reason drive-ins were called passion pits.
The 87 Drive-In had spaces for 300 cars. The original screen was 50
ft. by 50 ft. There was a recreational area for kids up front along
with seating space for adults - all surrounded by a 7 ft. fence.
A night at the 87 Drive-In was a bargain - $2 a head to get in not
counting the number of friends you could stuff in the trunk. Children
under 12 got in free. On certain nights the price of admission was
$5 a carload.
Often on weekends the 87 Drive-In showed a double feature. Connoisseurs
of fine cinema could see Beach Blanket Bingo and I was a
Teenage Werewolf for the price of 1 ticket.
It's been a long time since I've been to a drive-in, but I had an
experience a while back that reminded me how much fun watching a film
under the stars, both celestial and cinematic, could be. On a trip
to San Antonio my wife
and I saw John Wayne's "The Alamo" in Alamo Plaza in front of the
Alamo. It was unforgettable.
In the 1950s, at the peak of drive-in mania, there were about 4,000
drive-ins across the country. Then cable television, VCRs and DVDs
put most drive-ins out of business.
Land prices in cities skyrocketed causing developers to swallow up
drive-ins for strip malls.
For most of us a night at the drive-in is part of an era that has
vanished from the American landscape.
Fredericksburg's 87 Drive-In is long gone, but there are about 400
drive-ins across the country still in business.
Drive-ins are not extinct, but they are on the endangered species