The First Drive-In Movie Theater: June 6th 1933

The first drive-in theater opened 79 years ago in Camden, New Jersey. Our own Starlite Drive-In (now the site of Starlight Elementary) opened a few years later in 1950.

My friend Dave is retired from the coast guard. He now lives in Hawaii with his lovely wife, Catherine, and studies environmental law. He’s pretty hip. When he told me he’s from New Jersey, I listed a bunch of really cool friends who are also from there. I asked him what makes Jersey so cool? (Color me naive. I’m a native Californian.)

Dave said, “Michael, the keyword is FROM. The cool people LEFT New Jersey.” I can certainly cite some examples. (See these pages for Fred Reiss and John Andrew Eddy, also former Jersey-ites.) But Jersey is also the birthplace of a very cool idea or two.

Case in point. Seventy-nine years ago today, on June 6, 1933, the very first drive-in movie theater opened in Camden, New Jersey. It was the brainchild of Richard Milton Hollingshead Jr., and it’s commerated in today’s Google Doodle (an 30-second animation that includes a cheesy movie clip, shots of the back windows of cars, and even a quick reveal of two stowawys in a trunk.) This first drive-in theater didn’t even have speakers. Sound was broadcast directly to car radios, the same way it is now in the remaining 350 or so drive-ins around the country. Hollingshead was ahead of his time in many ways. Or maybe he was just too cheap to wire speakers throughout the parking lot.

Drive-ins are obviously very near and dear to me. Well, maybe not “near”. The closest one is the Capitol Drive-In in south San Jose. But they’re dear. I spent more weekends than I can count at our own Starlite Drive-In (now the site of ) here in Watsonville. The Starlite Drive-In came along in 1950. It closed in 1988. I was also happy to write about it as the title track on the new CD. also added the title track to their playlist this week, which is also incredibly exciting and humbling. 

The CD itself will be up in iTunes and properly linked on my site in a week or so. In the meantime, you can pre-order “Starlite Drive-In Saturday Night”, or just listen to a few tunes from the record (including the song about our beloved drive-in), from my Bandcamp site. (And if you pre-order the CD, I’ll send you a physical copy of the record immediately.)

Let’s give a big thanks to Mr. Hollingshead for a wonderful idea that’s still standing in many places. In fact, one of the few remaining drive-ins, the Delsea Drive-In, is located in Vineland, New Jersey. I still argue that the place is semi-hip.

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