On a Friday night in the 1930s, there was no better activity than enjoying a movie outdoors with family and friends for as cheap as only 25 cents per person. Drive-in movies, once a go-to activity for the weekends, have experienced a steady decline in popularity and locations in recent years. With the increasing accessibility of streaming platforms such as Hulu, Amazon Prime, and HBO Max, many people are less motivated to find a drive-in theater. In the Bay Area, it can feel more convenient to stay in, or go to their local indoor movie theater than go to a drive-in, especially if the nearest one is in Concord.
Although drive-ins may come across as old-fashioned, they still fulfill a role that cannot be truly replaced. The first patented outdoor movie experience was called Camden Drive-In, which was opened in June 1933, in New Jersey. The founder, Richard Hollingshead, came up with the idea for his mother, who felt uncomfortable with the small size of movie theater seats. Hollingshead later advertised his drive-in as a fun experience for families to enjoy. By the 1950s, drive-ins were opening up around the country after Hollingshead’s patent was overturned. It’s estimated that there were over 4,000 drive-ins across the U.S. However, according to The United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association, as of 2021, there are only 318 drive-ins left in the United States, leaving less than only 20 drive-ins in California.
Drive-ins offer the customer a sense of community that people feel when gathering together outside to share the same movie experience. Also, they are more relevant now than ever, given the conditions due to COVID-19. There is no need for a mask when inside a car since there is little to no contact between strangers.
An added benefit to drive-in theaters is that the customer can bring in as many people as they can fit into their car. Unlike indoor theaters, there is less limited space in drive-ins because anyone who can fit into the parking lot is allowed in. This is especially useful during times when popular movies have just come out since they’re more likely to sell out in an indoor theater due to the limited capacity.
Other irreplaceable aspects of drive-ins are the increased space, the ability to chat without annoying your neighbor, and fewer interruptions, which are all things Hollingshead wanted when coming up with his invention. Drive-ins are a key part of American entertainment history, and must be restored. While indoor theaters have many benefits of their own, they can never replicate the appeal of being outside. Taking away drive-ins will minimize options for people to comfortably enjoy films together. Drive-in theaters are a wholesome part of history that cannot be forgotten in the modern age.