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Drive-in movies: Still the perfect way to spend a summer night in Seattle

Drive-Ins are disappearing but a few still offer a fun, retro way to see a movie. Historian Feliks Banel shares a few gone and a few still remaining. #newdaynw

WASHINGTON, USA — A classic staple in American culture, drive-in movie theaters seem to be a big staple of it, even decades after the industry started to decline.

Drive-ins might have an association with the 1950s, but they are still the perfect way to spend a summer night.

“Drive-ins are cool because they combine so many awesome elements of American culture: cars, Hollywood, junk food, making out with your girlfriend or boyfriend,” said radio host and historian Feliks Banel to New Day NW.

It can even be more than that: for once, cars are now more comfortable, and drive-ins can also bring comfort and family-friendly entertainment. Little kids aren’t always welcomed in regular theaters, but in drive-ins, they have the space to move around and since every car tunes into their sound with their own radio, kids can be as noisy as they want.

And it was exactly this reason why they were so popular in the first place.

With the baby boom after World War II, people were living in the suburbs in need of family entertainment.

The industry peaked in 1958, with over 4,000 drive-ins in the country, according to Robin T. Reid for the Smithsonian Magazine.

But, these theaters started well before that.

The first drive-in opened in 1933 in New Jersey, an invention of Richard Hollingshead. People paid 25 cents per car and per person, according to Reid. 

It wasn’t unusual to see movies outdoors, but this new novelty involved cars, and what a better business idea for a car-loving society? More than that, drive-in theaters offered accessibility to the Hollywood business. Hollingshead himself started doing them to offer movie entertainment to his mother, who couldn’t fit in the theater seats.

They quickly catch up. According to Banel, the first one in the area was in 1942. In 1942, the Midway Drive-In opened in Des Moines, Washington, although at the time it was named the Northwest Motor-In.

The industry held for decades, but then cities started growing, land became more expensive and the culture changed.

People started getting VCRs and cable TV. Then came the cost to go digital which even affected regular movie theaters.

A lot of drive-ins were small businesses that ran in the family, and the costs to keep up with times were too high.

Still, a lot of them survived.

“I think the secret is, you have to own your own real estate so nobody is trying to raise the rent. Then you have to have a commitment to almost a lost art. But it comes back,” said Banel, adding that there is a market for it.

Western Washington has some drive-in theaters left. Banel shares three that are gone and three still hanging on.

If you want to try a drive-in, these might be the best options for you in the area. If you live in Seattle, some of these are a little far out, but worth the experience.

Unfortunately, these are the ones that are no longer operating.

  • Duwamish Drive-In

  • Puget Park in South Everett

  • Valley 6 Drive-In in Auburn

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