Jun 13, 2012
Drive-Ins: A Drive Back In Time
On a hot summer night, when you’re itching for a good movie but feel guilty staying inside, drive-in theaters offer the perfect solution. While these may seem like a quaint comfort of the past, New England and even Connecticut actually have numerous drive-in theater options. I explored these hidden gems last summer, when my friends and I faced the typical teenage dilemma of having “nothing to do” in our small-town home. Perhaps its jealousy of our grandparents’ stories or perhaps its John Travolta’s musical scene from Grease, but drive-in theaters have a magical charm. It’s a unique experience to be able to watch your favorite movies in the fresh open air under the stars.
My search last summer took me to the Pleasant Valley Drive-in, located in Litchfield County and near the Berkshires. It shows two new movies Thursday through Sunday, with this season’s line-up including Madagascar 3 and the Avengers. Movies begin after dusk, and a carload ticket price is offered on Thursday nights at $16 per car for any number of people. Regular weekend prices are $8 for adults and kids 12 and up, $5 for kids 6 to 12, and free for kids 5 and under. This price, for two movies, is less than one ticket at many theaters, another drive-in perk.
Just outside Litchfield County, Southington Drive-in is owned by the town of Southington. It was purchased in 2004 and reopened in 2010, after running from 1955 to 2002. Besides an evening of nostalgia, this spot offers a way to give back to the community. Each of the movies shown is sponsored by a different civic organization, and over the past two seasons the drive-in has distributed over $20,000 to these local non-profits. Movies featured are past favorites like Shrek, Friday the 13th, Cars, Lady and the Tramp, and the Wizard of Oz. Tickets for Southington residents are $10 a carload, non-residents are $13 a carload, and walk-ins, with lawn chairs, are $2 a person.
Richard Hollingshead opened the first drive-in theater on June 6, 1933 on Crescent Boulevard, Camden, New Jersey. Back then, movie-goers didn’t have the luxury of speakers in their cars, a system that has evolved even further to directly transmitting sound through a radio station. The largest drive in theater opened in 1957, the Johnny All-Weather Drive-In of Copiague, New York. The 28-acre lot had space for 2,500 cars, 1,200 indoor seats, a playground, and full-service restaurant. While the places around today aren’t quite as extravagant, they still provide a distinct and enjoyable night out.
Connecticut’s final drive-in in Mansfield shows new movies and has room for about 950 cars. Poughkeepsie and Hyde Park in New York have similar drive-in theaters. While there is a fair-share in the area, Connecticut, which now has three drive-ins, at one time housed 40. Theaters are quickly vanishing, being replaced by Targets and Home Depots as in the case of the famous Johnny All-Weather Drive-In. With technology and lifestyles changing just as quickly, it is even rarer for children to have the same experiences as their parents or, particularly, grandparents. Trekking out to one of these locations is like driving into the past, into the iconic time of sock-hops and poodle-skirts and the “Greatest Generation.” It’s a treat that all ages can enjoy.