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Nostalgia of the drive-in theater

By Patte Smith; courtesy photos

Photo of Comanche Drive in Buena Vista CO

Drive-ins are fun for families, kids and teens on dates. Does anyone remember “be there or be square”?

Drive-in theaters have made a comeback this summer. In Colorado, there are eight drive-in theaters, and in the Denver area the last original 88 Drive-In Theatre in Commerce City is celebrating 48 years of bringing cinema classics to motion picture fans. With many indoor theaters closed and the traditional stream of blockbuster summer hits on hold, families are rekindling the fun of packing blankets, coolers and the kids in the car to head to the drive-in.

There are more than 300 drive-ins throughout the U.S. and in the heyday of the 1950s and 1960s, there were more than 4,000 drive-ins. The first “park-in” movie theater was opened in 1933 and was designed by Richard Hollingshead of Camden, New Jersey. History notes that he was inspired by his mother who was not comfortable sitting in an indoor movie theater, so he mounted a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his car parked in the driveway. He proceeded to hang a sheet on trees and a radio behind them for the sound.

He further developed the idea and added additional space for automobiles. In 1933, he received a patent for his Park-In Theaters, Inc. He charged 25 cents per person, with a limit of $1 per car. Over the years, other entrepreneurs continued to refine and build more theaters.

Photo of vintage car speakers at drive-in theater

Having individual speakers for each car revolutionized the drive-in theater experience for moviegoers.

Following World War II, more sophisticated in-car speakers that hung on car windows were developed and drive-in attendance soared. With the raising popularity, the concession stand business boomed and led to more success. Drive-ins popped up across the U.S., and live music, dance and picnic areas, as well as playgrounds, grew the attraction.

For a destination drive-in adventure, cruise over to the Comanche Drive-In in Buena Vista or check out the Star Drive-In Theatre in Montrose that touts “world famous” cheeseburgers and double feature movies. Closer to home, while not an “official” drive-in, both Park Meadows Retail Resort and the Denver Mart offer pop-up drive-in theaters that are showing some summer classics. Some neighborhood HOAs have even sponsored them (see related story page 16).

Joining the pop-up drive-in movie scene, Walmart will launch its drive-in movie theaters in August, transforming Walmart parking lots into outdoor cinemas at some of their superstores across the country. Movies will run through October. For information, visit

Photo of Danny Zuko, played by actor John Travolta in the movie “Grease,”

This classic scene of Danny Zuko, played by actor John Travolta in the movie “Grease,” highlights the novelty of concessions and a playground.



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