When Did The Lights First Go Out?

By Samantha Printy
On May 16th 1933, a patent was granted to a man named Richard Hollingshead, Jr. His idea was to build an Auto Theater, or as it is called presently, a Drive-In. The first drive-in opened in New Jersey on June 6th, 1933, and 300 cars filled the theater to capacity to watch a movie called Wives Beware.

Hollingshead marketed the drive-in idea by pointing out its many advantages, such as the fact that patrons could smoke and talk in their cars without bothering other people, and small children could sleep in the car, thus saving money, as baby sitters would not be needed. Though he quickly sold the idea to a company called Park-In Inc., little did he know that his idea would have a lasting influence on American culture.

At the peak of the drive-in culture during the late1950s, there were about 4,000 theaters across the nation. The drive-in became a favorite American pastime, encompassing many aspects of American culture of the time, which centered on family, friends, food, automobiles and movies. Drive-in theaters also became known as “passion pits,” as couples could become intimate in the (semi-)privacy of their own cars.

While  high film rental rates versus the low cost of a ticket was a burden on theaters, they soon developed the idea of the concession stand, which funneled money straight to the theater and not to the film industry.

For the first decade, it seemed as though the drive-in industry was on top. But during the 1960s the drive-in culture began to dwindle and in the 1980s many theaters were demolished. By the ’90s, with the appearance of the multiplex theater, the increase in rental rates and pressure from suburban development on theater-owned properties, only about 800 drive-in theaters remained nationwide. Some feared these theaters would become extinct.

Pueblo, a relatively small town, once had four drive-ins operating at the same time. The Pueblo Drive-in opened around 1950 and was closed by 1992. The Lake Drive-in opened in the early ’50s and was closed by 1985. The 96 Drive-in also opened in the ’50s and met the same fate as the previous theaters despite an attempt to reinvent itself in the ’80s. It closed its doors under the name East Drive-in around 1985. Only one theater out of the four has managed to weather the storm:  The Mesa Drive-in, which opened in 1951.

However, according to Drive-Ins.com, scores of drive-ins have been built since 1990 and over four dozen of those are currently open. Colorado currently boasts eight drive-ins in operation, most built in the ’50s heyday. Several Colorado drive-ins have added additional screens (the Mesa Drive-In has added two) in the last two decades, echoing the small but continuing resurgence of drive-ins across the county.

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