Top 25 things vanishing from America: # 6 -- Drive-in theaters

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This series explores aspects of America that may soon be just a memory -- some to be missed, some gladly left behind. From the least impactful to the most, here are 25 bits of vanishing America.

I fondly remember going to the drive-in with my family on hot summer nights in Jersey City. We'd have to test out several spots until we found one with working sound. The show would usually start with cartoons, then there would be a long intermission while cartoon-like promos pushed the snack bar. Finally the movie would start.

Well, those types of family nights are getting harder to find. During the peak in 1958, there were more than 4,000 drive-in theaters in this country, but in 2007 only 405 drive-ins were still operating. Exactly zero new drive-ins have been built since 2005. Only one reopened in 2005 and five reopened in 2006, so there isn't much of a movement toward reviving the closed ones.

Richard Hollingshead, Jr. invented the first drive-in in 1933 because he wanted a place the family could go together to watch a movie and not have to get dressed up, get a baby sitter or worry about parking. Prior to his invention, kids would go to the matinee and adults would dress up and go to the evening show.
Update: the number of drive-ins dropped to only 384 by the end of 2008.

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Drive-ins usually showed a children's movie first as soon as it got dark. The second movie was usually for teens/adults. While Hollingshead invented the drive-in for family fun they quickly became a great date place, where most couples didn't care if the sound worked on their speaker.

The first drive-in theater opened in Camden, N.J. on June 6, 1933 and seventeen more were built between 1933 and 1939. Detroit, Michigan, and Lufkin, Texas, hold the record for largest drive-ins ever built. Both could hold 3,000 cars at their heyday. The location of the former Lufkin, Texas theater is now a junkyard and the former Detroit theater is a strip mall. Many drive-Ins that still operate today also serve as flea markets and swap shops to help keep the business financially viable.

If you want to go to a drive-in movie before they are extinct you can find the one nearest you at Drive-Ins.com.
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