Today’s Google Doodle marks a bit of Americana that has sadly fallen to the wayside, with a nostalgic interactive doodle honoring the opening of the first drive-in theater.
The opening of the first drive-in theater came at the start of the summer on Crescent Boulevard in Pennsauken Township, New Jersey in 1933. Inventor Richard Milton Hollingshead, Jr. pioneered the concept during the Great Depression, when he observed that despite bleak economic conditions, Americans still found a bit of money to spend on food, gas and most importantly, going to the cinema.
While drive-in theaters are a bit of a relic now, the opening of the first drive-in theater was a big event. A site that chronicles the rise and decline of drive-ins as marked on by the Google Doodle explains:
“Opening night was June 6, 1933, and it was known simply as “Drive-In Theatre” although the actual name was the ‘Automobile Movie Theatre.’ Opening night was packed with cars, and the first film ever shown at a drive-in was the 1932 release of “Wives Beware,” which was in second-run status at the time.”
The site continues:
“The problem of obtaining first-run films for drive-ins remains to this day to some extent. Admission was 25¢ for each car and an additional 25¢ for each person, somewhat higher than the prevailing price at the indoor houses at the time, who were also offering double features. Ironically, this has reversed itself over time and drive-ins are usually the only places to see double features today.”
After the opening of the first drive-in theater in New Jersey and their rise and fall, the uniquely American phenomenon became somewhat symbolic of a golden era of American entertainment. As home movie-viewing rose in popularity and real estate grew to be a more competitive market, drive-in movie theaters across the US began disappearing.
In their heyday, more than 4,000 drive-ins operated in pleasant weather, a number that has sadly fallen to just 366 today- a figure that seems to decrease each summer as Home Depots and Malls crop up where families used to park as night fell to watch summer blockbusters at a flat rate for the whole car.
It’s been 79 years since the opening of the first drive-in theater, and while it’s unlikely at this time the practice will see a revival- much to the detriment of American families everywhere- the memory of drive-in theaters lives on for many of us who remember our early drive-in experiences.
Below is Google’s video in honor of drive-ins- are you old enough to have experienced drive-ins during your childhood and teens?