Today is National Drive-In day. June 6. Why today? According to New York Film Academy, the first patented drive-in opened on June 6, 1933 by Richard Hollingshead in New Jersey. Smack in the middle of the Great Depression. Which just goes to show you that no matter how hard economic times a society falls on, there is always money for entertainment, especially revolutionary entertainment such as the drive-in. Before them, people were packed into crowded theatres, now the experience was shifting into cars. Cool, right?
One of the upsides to drive-ins was that they were more accessible for the whole family. Even people of today can relate to packing into a tight row of theatre seating with a group of 6 or 8 people. Drive-ins were great for families that had noisy kids that needed to sprawl out with lots of space.
The Drive-Ins started in the 1930’s, but it took until the 1950’s and 1960’s for them to reach the height of their popularity, as car sales sky-rocketed in the booming decades, so too did the drive-ins popularity.
In Windsor, The Skyway Drive-In opened on April 30, 1948. Clearly, the owner was a visionary who could see the future popularity of drive-ins. The Skyway was operational until 1985, probably falling victim, much like the Odeon’s and other cinemas of the 20thcentury, to the massive popularity of the revolutionary VCR.
Another, was the Windsor Drive-In located at 5444 Walker Rd. It opened in 1950, and was also owned by the Dydzak family. Later, the Twin Drive-In opened on September 22, 1966. The Twin was located on the current site of Silvercity; I find it comforting to know that the location has a long history of movie screenings.
After the 1980’s mass demolition of drive-in’s, cinema’s, and the like, there have not been many independent’s popping up, save for the odd civic night of nostalgia, but nothing like a fully operational business that serves the community, until August 7, 2015, the Boonies Drive-In theatre opens, just outside of Tilbury. Still operational this season, the drive-in features current releases and a selection of classics.
It seems funny that drive-ins were once advertised as being for the whole family, indeed they were; but one resident remembers saying, “you’d drive away from the drive-in and there would be a pile of empties left on the ground.” They marketed to a late-night crowd as well. Whatever your experience at a drive-in was, you probably remember it fondly with a sense of nostalgia for the by-gone unique era of cinema viewing.
Clearer than the drive-ins in my memory are the video stores of Windsor: Jumbo, Applause, Eye on Video, and of course Blockbuster, but even the selection at your neighbourhood convenience store was usually stacked with the latest hits and a few notable classics.
We celebrate National Drive-in day because of all the many innovations in cinema viewing over the years – 3D, IMAX, etc. The drive-ins were the most unique and treasured. The notion of going out somewhere to an event and having the party happen inside of your car almost seems like a hyper advanced sales gimmick for car advertising. The cars themselves, were much more appealing back then as well, perhaps a spacious old Chevy Caprice would be more comfortable than a tight row of theatre seating with strangers, and certainly more appealing than hanging out in a modern vehicle. Currently, the party is happening inside, on our screens, and its anti-social.
Are you as likely to get a group of cars huddled together under a free wi-fi bubble to watch Netflix? Unlikely. Probably not. The modern revolution in cinema is that of the plush viewing environment: 7.1 surround sound, massive I-MAX screens, and recliner seating in amphitheatre style viewing rooms. The modern chains of cinemas are indeed the great cathedrals of the revered kings and queens of the worshipped stars of Hollywood. We revere them in our lives through our Instagram following and magazine reading and we worship them in the modern luxury theatres, making them idols.
For more local drive-in reading, click here.