By Alexandra Booth
A dream began in a driveway. Richard Hollingshead had a vision of an open-air movie theatre, where people could watch film from the comfort of a car. After vigorous testing for sound, weather conditions and car spacing, a patent was issued May 16, 1933.
The first drive-in movie theatre opened up in Camden, N.J. At its peak, there were some 4,000 drive-in movie theatres from the late 1950s to the early 1960s. They were a place where families could come to the movies and be able to take care of their children without disruption, or where teenagers would dip their toes into adulthood as a place to go on dates.
However, its decline has been sharp and distinct.
There are currently less than 360 drive-ins remaining. Cable television and movie rentals have provided tough competition for the theatres, and the large property required for drive-ins became expensive to run.
Plus, the conversion from traditional film to digital distribution puts an added pressure. This transformation is costly, starting at $70,000 per screen. The projector also requires vents or strong air conditioning to keep the machine temperature regulated. Yet, some drive-ins are making the change and keeping tradition alive.
There are four drive-in theatres still running nearby. The closest one is in Ruskin. Open since April 16, 1952, the Ruskin Family Drive-In Theater, located at 5011 N U.S. Hwy. 41 in Ruskin, doesn’t allow alcohol, drugs or rowdiness in order to keep the environment safe and family-friendly.
“The drive-in is a success because of all the families that come here,” said Karen Freiwald, one of the owners of the drive-in.
The three other theatres are the Fun Lan Drive-In in Tampa, the Silver Moon Drive-In in Lakeland open since April 14, 1948, and the Joy-Lan Drive-In in Dade City open since October 31, 1950.
Most of the theatres double as a swap shop during the day on the weekends where guests can buy, sell and swap unwanted items. All four theatres have a snack bar selling everything from popcorn and candy to pizza and beer, except at the Ruskin theatre.
Tickets to the drive-in theatres are notably cheaper than modern establishments, costing around $5 for adults and $1 for children ages 4-9. The Ruskin Family Drive-In charges $6 for adults and $1 for children ages 5-8, which includes two movies, and is also dog-friendly if they stay on a leash.
No matter what your age is, going (driving) to the movies is a fun activity everyone can enjoy.
“For some it’s considered romantic because you can go with a date, but for me and my family, we love movies [so] if we miss a movie at the theaters, we can go to the drive in,” said Heather Wilkins, Osprey Observer intern and avid moviegoer.
For more information on the Ruskin Family Drive-In, visit www.ruskin familydrivein.com; on the Silver Moon Drive-In located at 4100 New Tampa Hwy., visit www.silver moondrivein.com; Joy-Lan Drive-In located at 16414 U.S. 301, visit joylandrivein.com. The Fun Lan Drive-In doesn’t have its own Website but it is located at 2302 E Hillsborough Ave. and movie times can be found at Fandango.com.