Drive-in theaters were the places where families brought their pajama-clad kids, lovers went to make out, and nobody cared too much what was on the mammoth screen.
The first drive-in opened in 1933 in Camden, New Jersey. The first in Monroe County was the Rochester drive-in, which debuted in 1942. Others followed in the ’40s and ’50s. At one time, there were seven drive-ins in Monroe County. When the Lakeshore Drive-In out in Greece closed in 1992, it marked the end of an era that stretched back to World War II.
The local Washington Drive-In opened in 1956 and closed in 1988. Located on — you guessed it — Washington Street just south of the current Big Oak Driving Range, it is now a parking lot for new cars. I remember as a young boy driving my dad’s car loaded with a couple of friends in the trunk and trying to get the guys out of the trunk without being caught.
Some blame the demise of drive-ins on the advent of Cable TV and VCRs, others on smaller — less comfortable — cars or the lack of family-friendly flicks. Audiences shrunk for years and the number of drive-ins nationally continued to shrink, from a peak of 4,063 in 1958 to just 357 in 2013. I’m sure there are fewer now.
The drive-in has never been a good place to see a movie. It was always about being outdoors and having fun under the stars on a warm night.
Near the end, families still came with kids in pajamas, lovers still snuggled, some moviegoers still tried to sneak in by hiding in the trunk, and teenagers still perched on the hoods of their cars.
Your first goal upon arrival was to find a speaker that worked. It wasn’t always easy. The speakers were clunky and easy to forget. Many a story was told of a motorist who absentmindedly or otherwise, drove off with the speaker still attached to the car window.
Profits continue to nosedive, and developers drooled over land for business and the like. One of the last local ones to end its run was the Washington Drive-In in 1988.
Flat screen TVs and high-tech theaters are the rage for movie watchers now. But there was nothing like seeing a movie, no matter how bad it was, under the stars at a drive-in.
Special thanks to Alan Morrell, as some of the content in this column was taken from parts of his 2014 D&C article.