Oregon has a long history of drive-in theaters, having had seventy of them operating at their peak in 1959. Today there are still a handful of them puttering away, usually open for special occasions and during specific seasons.
For those unfamiliar, a drive-in theater is a movie theater where instead of parking and walking in to a building, you park in a field or parking lot in front of a large screen. The movie picture is projected onto the screen from behind the cars, with the audio track either coming through a small mounted speaker that is brought into the vehicle, or projected through radio transmissions picked-up by the car stereo.
The idea was patented in May of 1933, and was invented by Richard Hollingshead, a small-time inventor who wanted to meld the two loves of his life: cars and movies. With a relatively small investment, Hollingshead opened his first theater, using the theater to test various conditions. It’s said he used garden sprinklers to simulate adverse weather, and could always be seen fiddling with the audio components to provide the best sound for the best value.
Instead of what would become common later, Hollingshead used several directional speakers mounted outside to provide the sound. The sound quality, despite his fiddling, was quite poor especially for customers near the back, as the speakers were mounted up near the screen.
The idea caught on, and soon drive-ins were popping up throughout the country. The largest one was the All-Weather Drive-In of Copiague, New York which could accommodate 2,500 vehicles, and had an indoor area that could seat another 1,200 walk-ins. It had many of the accommodations you now find around mall movie theaters including restaurants, play-areas for kids, and even had a shuttle train that would take viewers around to the various areas.
In 1948 Edward Brown had an even more novel idea. By putting a small runway next to the parking lot, Brown was able to create the first combination drive-or-fly-in theater. Planes would come in for a landing, and then taxi into the back row of the theater.
Today, a few drive-in theaters still operate in Oregon, though with business slowing their fate is uncertain. Give the phone number for them a call before going out of your way, as their times and seasons often vary.
Ninety-Nine West Drive-In – Portland Road, Newberg, OR 97132 (503) 538-2738
Woodburn Drive-In Theater – 1970 Molalla Road, Woodburn, OR 97071 (503) 982-7551
Motor-Vu Drive-In Dallas – 315 Southeast Fir Villa Road, Dallas, OR 97338 (503) 623-4449