The Days of Drive-In Movies
During the 1950’s Texas had more drive in movies than any other state! I was reminiscing about life in the 50’s, I thought about things we did for fun and entertainment. “We never went to movies,” I said to Eddie. He said, “Yes, we did, we went to the drive-ins!”
Wondering when the first drive-in movie came to Texas I looked it up, and found out that New Jersey and Pennsylvania had the first and second theaters, and in July 1934, Galveston had Texas first drive-in movie. By the late 50’s Texas had nearly 400, more than any state! There was a drive-in theatre boom in the 50’s, and 20 years after the boom, Texas still had 200 outdoor theaters. Now there are only 13 left. Four states have no drive-in theatres at all.
It brings back memories of those times when the children were young in San Antonio, and we would take a blanket and snacks on a warm summer night to go to the Trail Drive-in or the Mission Drive-in. The movie always started at dark, whatever that time was. The parking lot usually was gravel and the posts lined up on small hills so you could park your car upwards toward the giant screen. A post with a speaker was nearby, and we would pull up, grab the speaker and hang it on the door, as we settled down to watch the coming attractions and advertisements for the snack bar. For some reason those advertisements stand out in my memory more than the movies! We never could afford the snack bar. It would have to be a special treat. We brought our own snacks to save money! It was a very cheap night of entertainment, because it was usually a dollar a carload, and that was great for a whole family night out.
We sometimes took the kids in their pajamas, because they would fall asleep before the movie ended and we could take them right to bed, when we got home. As the years went by, we borrowed some lawn chairs and we would sit out by the car to catch the summer breeze. If you sat in the car, you had to keep the door open to get cool. Sitting outside, we would put the quilt on the hood of the car, and the kids could lie down on their stomachs and watch the movie, their heads propped on their hands with a pillow underneath.
Later on in the 60’s we would go to the San Pedro Drive-in Theatre. It was closer to our house. That was where our oldest son got his first job. Trent and his friend, Fred Flores, were only 14 years old, but they were hired to take up tickets as the people drove into the theater, and help them find a parking place. Trent loved that job. He got to see all the movies free, and was earning money besides. While he worked out there, we went to lots of movies, taking Julie, Derek and Kristi with us. They were so happy when Saturday nights would come and we would go out for a “night on the town”.
Of course, Kristi, who was two and three years old, loved the snack bar the best. By then Eddie was making more money and we could splurge on snacks from the snack bar, so her daddy would take her to get popcorn, a Coke, a candy bar, or even a hot dog, because she would say, “But Mommy, I’m so hungry!” Derek was more interested in the movie, but was always ready for a snack too. We sat in our lawn chairs, Eddie smoking a cigarette, and eating popcorn, and me with Kristi in my lap, as she would finally doze off to sleep. There is nothing like sitting in a lawn chair, under the stars with the cool breezes blowing, with the sounds of the music coming from the speakers as the movie started, and once in awhile swatting a mosquito that lit on your leg, hearing a baby cry as it’s mother quieted it in the night air.
The first four or five rows were filled with cars with young families. The young couples were the ones who always parked in the back row, where it was darker, and didn’t watch much of the movie. Julie and Derek would stay awake to the very end, and when the movie ended, all the cars were lined up, headlights slowly inching out of the theater, sleepy kids in the cars, and the young couples waiting to be the last cars out.
There are still drive-in theatres in a few larger cities like Abilene, San Antonio, McAllen, Amarillo and Houston. Drive-in theatres are still open in such small towns in Texas, as Rule, Turkey, Gatesville, Granbury, Mercedes, Shiner, Graham, and Lamesa. What I liked about the theater in Gatesville: it is still run by the same family after 37 years. It is very family-oriented and they do not show R-rated movies. This theater still has some of the old speakers here for nostalgia lovers!
The Lamesa Sky Vue, open since 1948, credits the snack bar to keeping it open. And the Brazos in Granbury has been open continuously since 1952. Drive-in theatres are becoming harder and harder to keep open.
Sometimes when I am driving through Texas, and see an old outdoor screen, all broken down, and leaning to one side, with a few posts still standing, and weeds growing up in the gravel or asphalt, I feel very sad. That era has past, and now even local movie theatres are gone, especially in the small towns. The giant movie houses with 16 screens are becoming a monopoly and shutting down the small theaters. Also, video stores have replaced many theaters.
When VCR’s came in, everyone started renting movies and watching them in the privacy of their own home. That was just another way to shut out the world and people. Before the drive-in theatres become extinct, I want to take my grandchildren to one before I leave this world. The only thing is, I am not sure I can turn off the air conditioner in my car, so I will probably have to leave my motor running.
They say you can listen to the movie on an FM station. But I better make sure I fill the car up. Some of those double features are really long! And this time I will probably be the one to fall asleep, so I will have to let one of the grandkids drive home.