Monday, March 8, 2010

Fun at the Drive-In

So there I am watching the Academy Awards, when I'm suddenly inspired with this great idea for a new business. (Bear with me here because I know it seems crazy at first listen.)

You take a giant movie screen, let's say approximately a thousand times bigger than at your neighborhood 18-screen Chainoplex Theater. You get a plot of land about the size of six football fields. You build these long lines of bumps across the plot, about 30 feet apart. On the bumps you plant posts with tinny sounding metal speakers, and …

Wait. You're right. It could never work.

But it did work in Delaware County (and the rest of America) for 30 years or more. That's two generations of station-wagoned families with kids ready for bed, parked next to hormone-raging teens performing acts generally reserved for bed.

The quality of the movies ranged from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Plan 9 From Outer Space (generally considered the worst motion picture ever unleashed on the public) to The Godfather, Funny Girl and most high level features. The top movies usually showed outdoors many months after their initial release, but if you were patient you could see last year's best movies for the drive-ins' signature bargain price … “$4-a-carload.” (Actually the price per carload ranged from $2 to $8 over the years as we learned the perils of inflation.)

In Eddystone there was the Chester Pike Drive-In, known for its great snack bar (order the french fries if you ever go back in time) and occasional live music shows. If you're too young to remember drive-ins ask your parents to explain Mr. Dee-Lish to you.

At MacDade Blvd. and Oak Lane you could find the appropriately named MacDade Drive-In. I think that was the biggest one in the county with a capacity of around 1,000 cars. And I'm pretty sure I saw M*A*S*H there a year before I was technically old enough to.

The Airport Drive-In in Essington ran triple features that took you well into the wee hours, and was also known for its gigantic playground.

Then there was the Family Drive-In on Baltimore Pike in Clifton Heights. During its heyday it showed the films you'd expect … Pinocchio, Love Story, Billy Jack. But as the years became leaner the management made the decision to go to adults-only movies. Now, this gave rise to a few problems since the screen could be seen from parts of Baltimore Pike not within the bounds of the drive-in. No sound was available, of course, but that didn't seem to be a drawback in the adult genre as it might be in, say, the mystery genre.

Given the name of that establishment, I'm pretty sure this is what they call irony.

One last memory I have of the drive-in experience. If anyone remembers a green, spiral mosquito repellant that you lit with a match and burned like very bad-smelling incense, please let me know. I can't find any reference to that sort of thing on the Net and I'm starting to think I dreamed it.

Say … maybe that's my great idea for a new business!


  1. As a former Delaware Countian and co worker from "The A. of Ardmore", I love your blogs. They bring back so many good times. Right now I am thinking of eating establishments: Marra's where I had my first pizza and Horn & Hardart's in Lansdowne where for 25 cents one could get a cup of coffee and a toasted cinnamon bun. Those were the days. Thanks for the memories. Betsy

  2. Great to hear from you, Betsy! And thanks for checking out the blog (and for your kind words). I hope all is going well for you!!

  3. I remember those mosquito repellants! And the MacDade Drive-in. We used to hide under our friends' feet in the back seat of their mother's station wagon, trying to get in cheap when they started charging per person. What a great blog!

  4. Thanks for the good word, Diane ... and for remembering those repellants. I guess they're not my business idea, but at least I'm not going crazy.

  5. Jack, I THINK, only think, they were called PICS. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

  6. You may be on to something there, Pete. that does sound familiar.

  7. Sent you a photo on FB. Why Oh Why can I only remember useless information??

  8. I worked for Berlo vending as a supervisor of all those theaters, it was PIC mosquito repellant.

    Do you remember the stage shows Hy Lit of WIBG radio used to put on at the Airport Drive-In, he had 10-12 music acts, often performing on a flat bed truck or on the snack bar roof. I remember shows with Sam Cooke, Isley Bothers and so many more.

  9. My only experience in a DELCO drive-in was pretty traumatic. My father had decided to participate in advertising for his company that is placed at the end of a movie, and he took the family, proud as a peacock, to see the marketing.

    Of course, he paid no attention to the actual movie showing. So, as it winds up, he has three children snug in the station wagon (ages 8, 7 and 5 probably) viewing the most gory movie to us at the time... I think it was called "Grizzly". Say no more...

  10. The best view of the Family Drive-In screen was from the hill back of the creek, augmented by a case of beer (preferably Michelob).

  11. I remember the Chester Pike Drive in and the spiral mosquito repellant. I remember the playground at this drive in...lots of metal - even metal horses....what I wouldn't give for one of those for my merry go round, too....

  12. I found this searching for the Chester Pike Drive In Theater. I used to go there almost every week during my teen years. My father was the manager. My first real job was working there. Brings back memories. My father worked for A.M. Ellis Theater Company as long as I can remember. He was with them when my older brother was growing up also. I'm 60 and my brother is 68. I grew up in Upper Darby and also helped out at the Tower Theater in 69th St. The good old days. Miss them.


  13. I worked at the mandate drive in started at 16 and was there when it closed that was sad when they sold the land to supermarket General