During the height of its popularity – the late 1950s and early 1960s – there were approximately 4,000 drive-ins in the United States. Today, there are only 366 still in operation.
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the drive-in theater, the brainchild of industrialist Richard Hollingshead Jr. In 1932, Hollingshead’s first outdoor theater consisted of a screen attached to trees in his backyard, a 1928 Kodak projector and a radio. After making significant improvements, he was awarded a U.S. Patent and his first commercial drive-in, which could handle 400 cars and project movies on a 40-by-50-foot screen, opened in Pennsauken, N.J., on June 6, 1933. During the height of its popularity – the late 1950s and early 1960s – there were approximately 4,000 drive-ins spread throughout mostly rural areas in the United States. Today, there are only 366 still in operation and one of those is right in our own back yard.
A family business
Warwick is one of a dwindling number of communities that still offers the unique experience of the drive-in movie theater. The Warwick Drive-In Theater, a family-owned and family-run business at 5 Warwick Turnpike, just behind ShopRite Plaza, provides a unique experience for visitors from throughout the Metropolitan area as well as being the only nearby movie theater for local residents. It is one of only five drive-ins within a two-hour drive from Manhattan. And there are over 22,500 subscribers to its weekly schedule via e-mail. Owners Beth and Ernest Wilson, who live in nearby Westtown, continue the family tradition started by Beth’s father, Frank Seeber.
In 1977, Seeber purchased the original drive-in, built in 1950, from Charles and Mary Finger, who had operated the business successfully for 25 years. In 1996, Seeber and his wife, Ann, retired and their daughter Beth and her husband, Ernest, purchased the theater and land as Casey Family Theaters, Inc. “We named the company after our nickname for Cassandra, the youngest of our four children,” said Beth Wilson. “She was born on the day we purchased the business.” Cassandra, 16, died last July, as the result of a fall from a cliff on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River.
Today the Warwick Drive-In features a park-like setting on 11 acres with first-run movies, home-cooked food and multiple screens offering a choice of first run features. Anyone who, in the past, almost drove off with the speaker attached to the car’s window needn’t be concerned these days. The new sound system is your own FM radio. The projection system is the latest in state-of-the-art equipment and the incline and parking arrangement provide an unobstructed view of each of the three huge screens. There are many advantages to watching a movie from the comfort of your own car. “It’s cheaper to bring your family here,” said Wilson. “You don’t have to pay for a baby sitter to take them out, you’re not going ‘shhh’ to your children all night long, and it’s more of a nice atmosphere than sitting in the theater.”
The Warwick Drive-In is open March through October. Three screens and two showings allow for six different movies to be seen each night. A complete schedule of films and fees along with the snack-bar’s extensive menu can be viewed at www.warwickdrivein.com. Schedule information is also available by calling 845-986-4440.
– See more at: Warwick Advertiser Online