The Warwick Drive-In. Photo courtesy of Beth Seeber Wilson
When New York State begins to re-open on May 15, one of the low-risk activities included in the reopening state-wide are drive-in theaters. Long thought to be a relic of the past, there are more than a handful of drive-ins still operating in New York State. In the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps it’s time for a trip down memory lane this summer!
According to the United Drive-In Theatre Owner’s Association (U.D.I.T.O.A.), as of 2016 there were only 324 drive-in theaters in America. During the 1950s, the golden age of drive-in cinema, the U.D.I.T.O.A. estimates there were as many as 4,063 drive-ins across the country. The most dramatic drop occurred in the 1980s when a number of factors such as aging owners, the abundance of other entertainment media, and increasing land values caused many drive-ins to dismantle.
Since the late 1990s, the American penchant for nostalgia seems to have caused the number of drive-ins to level off. According to U.D.I.T.O.A. statistics, New York boasts the most drive-in theaters of any state, followed by Pennsylvania and Ohio. Back in 2013, we also had the opportunity to experience a semblance of the drive-in movie theater in New York City, thanks to an installation at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, which was made of junked cars and salvaged materials. Now, here’s a look at 14 of New York State’s oldest and newest drive ins. You may also want to check out the drive-in theater in Astoria, Queens transformed from the parking lot of the Bel -Aire Diner!
1. Finger Lakes Drive-In
The Finger Lakes Drive-In in Auburn, New York claims it’s the oldest continually running drive-in, opened first on July 15, 1947. It will be open for business this weekend showing Trolls World Tour. The classic drive-in has speakers placed on poles throughout the parking area, but you can also tune in through your FM radio at 101.9 FM to get the sound for the films.
2. Four Brothers Drive-In (4957 NY-22, Amenia, NY 12501)
Image courtesy Four Brothers Drive-In
Despite the vintage charm and retro aesthetic of Four Brothers Drive-In, it is the newest drive-in theatre in the country. The design concept for the theatre, which opened in 2014, is based on “American imagination, ingenuity, and lifestyle,” with their rocket ship logo calling back to the dreams of Americans in the 1960s. The character of the theatre is enhanced by signs, furniture and art that are all made in America. An art-deco painting in the projection booth was the last public work created by local artist Peter Wing before his death.
Along with the carefully curated decor comes a carefully curated schedule of new releases, #ThrowbackThursday classics, and indie films presented on a 56 by 31 foot screen. Car hop service is available through the theatre’s app, by phone or at the concession shack which serves all locally sourced food and drinks. On special occasions there are pre-show activities such as face-painting, ice-cream making and pony rides before the show. Everyday there is a playground open for children, the “Lazy Lover Liz Lounge” with a fire-pit and pergola, and open space for pets to play and a giant liter box for them to do their business. Four Brothers is the first drive-in to feature EV charging stations for electric cars.
Four Brothers describes itself as a “boutique cinema in the pursuit of magic” and it is quickly becoming a destination rather than just a theatre. Four Brothers will soon offer a mini-golf course and overnight accommodations in vintage Airstream trailers. Don’t forget to mark your visit by taking a Polaroid and adding it to their guestbook! Four Brothers will also be open for the re-opening of New York State, showing Trolls World Tour and Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey.
3. Malta Drive-In Theater (2785 Rte 9, Ballston Spa, NY 12020)
Photo from Malta Drive-In Theatre, courtesy Ed Caro
The Malta Drive-In Theatre is easy to spot as you drive up Route 9 and see its iconic flashing marquee. A historical marker denotes the landmarked status of the Malta’s signage which was granted in 2007. One of the oldest drive-ins still in operation, the Malta was built in 1949.The theatre opens on the last weekend in April and screens double features through October. In 2013 the Malta converted from film to digital projection so viewers in their 550 car lot can enjoy the lastest blockbuster releases.
New to the Malta Drive-In this coming season will be the Malta Flea, a flea market organized by Jim O’Connell, a marketing professional with a background in antiques and furniture restoration and sales who has been a vendor at antique shows and flea markets throughout the Northeast. The goal of O’Connell’s flea market at the vintage Malta theatre is to “bring together buyers and sellers, along with the community” who share a “passion for tools, toys, antiques, collectibles” while also supporting local charities. Malta Drive-In will re-open on May 22nd, 2020!
4. Jericho Drive-In Theatre (21 Jericho Rd, Glenmont, NY 12077)
Jericho Drive-In has been a staple of the community since 1956. Along with offering customers the latest cinematic releases, Jericho Drive-In is home to the “Jericho Sundae.” Served at the accompanying ice cream store Twist, the Jericho Sundae is made of vanilla, chocolate and twist soft serve ice cream layered with bananas, peanut butter sauce, caramel and hot fudge, topped with nuts, chocolate sprinkles and a Reese’s peanut butter cup! If that’s not a sweet enough deal, the theatre sells season passes that can be used any day of the season and allow you free admission for one friend.
Every Sunday at Twist is Doggie Night where your pup can get a free Doggie Vanilla with any purchase after 6pm and on any day coaches who bring their teams in uniform get 10% off the total bill and a free small cone for the coach. Jericho Drive-In will also be open for the re-opening of New York State showing Onward and The Call of the Wild.
5. Hollywood Drive-In Theatre (9254 NY Rte 66, Averill Park, NY 12018)
In 1952 James Fisher and his wife Beatrice, along with their son Frank, opened the Hollywood Drive-In. Located on Route 66 just eight miles outside of Troy, NY, the theater was open year round, seven nights a week in the spring and summer and on weekends in September through May. During the colder months, the theater offered heaters that plugged into the speaker pole that cars would park next to. In 1968 Frank took over the business from his father and has been running it ever since.
Over the past 66 years the Hollywood Drive-In has evolved from a 250 car lot with a 2000 foot reel projector and wired speakers to a 400 car lot with digital projection and a Dolby digital sound system. Despite the modern technology, the old-school drive-in experience retains the same allure. Visitors are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or beach blankets and even their pet and relax and enjoy the show. Don’t forget to stop by the concession stand where you may find a free movie pass in your popcorn! Hollywood Drive-In will re-open on May 22nd, 2020.
6. Warwick Drive-In Theatre (5 Warwick Turnpike, Warwick, NY 10990)
Photo Courtesy of Beth Seeber Wilson
The Warwick Drive-In has been in owner Beth Wilson’s family for over 21 years. The original drive-in was built in 1950 by Charles and Mary Finger in partnership with George and Adeline Miller on five acres of land in Orange County, NY. The Finger family ran the theater for 25 years. In 1977, the Fingers retired and sold the theater to Beth Wilson’s father Frank Seeber. Seeber dreamed of owning his own theatre since he began working in the business at thirteen years old cleaning windshields for tips. Seeber and his wife added two screens, modern projection rooms and ticket selling stations as they expanded the theatre to 11 acres in the 1980s. In 1995 the Seebers retired and their daughters Beth and Laurey took over operations. In addition to the steadfast family ownership, another constant at the Warwick Drive-In has been employee Joan Damon who has run the concession area since the 1970’s.
In 2014 the theater converted from film to digital projection. Every night double features are presented on three big screens and home-cooked food is served at the concession stand. The Warwick Drive-In will be open for the re-opening of New York State this weekend.
7. Bay Drive-In Theatre (Rt. 26 & 45148 Bailey Settlement Road, Alexandria Bay, NY 13607)
Photograph by John Jason Ryder
Bay Drive-In is the oldest continuously operated drive-in movie theater in Jefferson County, NY. Established in 1968, this theater shows digitally projected new releases every weekend from April through October and every night from June through Labor Day on two large screens. Audio plays through viewers’ FM car radios. On the Bay Drive-In Facebook page fans can vote for their favorite films in the “Popcorn Bowl.”
As of the last update on May 11th, Bay Drive-In says, “We’re investigating our options to open safely and viably. As soon as we know for sure, we will post something to Facebook.”
8. Vintage Drive-In Theatre (1520 W. Henrietta Rd, Avon, NY 14414)
The entertainment at Vintage Drive-In starts an hour before the first movie even begins. In addition to the double feature of new releases you get with your ticket, you also get to listen to the their in-house “drive in radio show.” Three screens offer movie-goers a unique, outdoor, double feature experience. The 1950’s themed concession stand offers the usual light theatre snacks along with more hardy choices like buffalo chicken pizza, Italian sausage, grilled cheese and a vintage burger.
The Vintage-Drive-In will re-open on May 21st, 2020.
9. Charcoal Corral & Silver Lake Drive-In Theater (7037 Chapman Rd, Perry, NY 14530)
The Charcoal Corral and Silver Lake Drive-In offer visitors a full day and night of entertainment for the entire family. The first establishment at this complex was the Silver Lake Drive-In which opened in 1949. In 1977 the main building of the Charcoal Corral restaurant was built right next to the theatre.
Over the years this entertainment hub has grown to include a pizzeria, ice cream parlor, video arcade, and 18-hole mini-golf course. The theatre and restaurant host a variety of events such as car shows, free summer concerts and a giant inflatable playground. The Silver Lake Drive-In, which has two screens, will be open this weekend for the re-opening of New York State showing Trolls World Tour, Jumanji The Next Level, The Invisible Man, and Bad Boys for Life.
10/11. Ozoner 29 Twin Drive-In (Rt 29, Broadalbin, NY 12025) | El Rancho Drive-In Theatre (6070 NY-5, Palatine Bridge, NY 13428)
Image courtesy El Rancho Drive-In
On June 8, 1952 El Rancho Drive-In opened with a screening of “That’s My Boy,” starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, on a 60 by 90 foot screen, the same screen that stands there today. The tiny concession stand in the middle of the 400 car lot is also original to the theatre and still has its original flat roof and powder-blue tile floor. The first ticket booth was unfortunately lost due to weather damage but a new one has been built by current owners Darci and Bill Wemple.
Additionally, Ozoner 29 was also opened in 2004 by the Wemples in nearby Palatine Bridge, NY. The term “Ozoner” was coined in a 1950s issue of Variety Magazine to describe an outdoor type theater. The 29 in the name comes from the theatre’s location on Route 29. The Ozoner boasts two large screens showing double features and a newly renovated concession stand and restroom areas. Shows begin at dusk and gates open at 7:30. The best perk is that drivers are admitted free! Ozoner 29 hosts special events such as a Halloween Scare-A-Thon and Sock Hop/Elvis Nights in the summer.
The drive-ins will be open this weekend, showing Trolls World Tour and Jumanji The Next Level.
12. Unadilla Drive-In Theatre (1706 State Highway 7, Unadilla, NY 13849)
The Unadilla Drive-In Theatre in Ostego County, NY celebrated 61 years in business at the close of the 2017. Open since 1956, Unadillla Drive-In has kept up with the times by renovating the snack bar, updating the sound system and FM transmitter and converting to digital projection. The theatre has weekly giveaways that include prizes such as free movie tickets and snacks. Even if you lose the sweepstakes, a visit to this theatre is always a win since you can catch a double feature of first-run movies for only eight dollars and while most drive-in theaters charge a permit fee if you bring your own snacks, Unadilla let’s you bring goodies from home free of charge.
There were rumored plans for a trailer park to take over the theatre’s land in 2000 but it was instead bought by current owners Eric and Marcia Wilson. The Wilsons purchased the theater to preserve its nostalgia. Now, the daily operations are mostly carried out by their children and manager. Unadilla Drive-In has not stated yet when they will re-open.
13. Glen Drive-In Theatre (983 Rte 9, Queensbury, NY 12804)
Glen Drive-In has been keeping the tradition of drive-in theaters alive since 1958 and will celebrate its 60th anniversary this year. This theatre, located near the popular Lake George area, offers viewers the classic double feature drive-in experience.
Once you park your car in front one of their two screens you have the choice of listening to the sound through your FM car radio or their old-fashioned speakers. Glen Drive-In opens for the spring in April.
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14. 56 Auto Drive-In Theatre (9783 State Highway 56, Massena, NY 13662)
Photo courtesy Bernadette Jenkins, 56 Auto Drive-In
On July 22, 1955 the 56 Auto Drive-In Theatre opened with a screening of Walt Disney’s “20,000 leagues Under the Sea.” An article in the Massena Observer on July 21, 1955 noted the many features of the brand new theatre such as its cinemascope screen, large parking spaces and “greatly improved hearing apparatus.”
The drive-in has been in operation ever since its 1955 opening. Double features are presented every night at this vintage theatre throughout the season while guests enjoyed slushies, fried-dough, 1/4 pound hot dogs and 1/3 pound hamburgers. 56 Auto Drive-In in planning to reopen in the next few weeks, date TBD. According to a post on its Facebook page, “Lots of good things to look forward to! We are busy working toward our reopening, repairs to the screen, adjustments in the Snack Bar for social distancing . We will need the support and cooperation of the community to keep the drive-in open and safe for everyone to enjoy.”
15. Portville Drive-In Theatre (1060 Olean/Portville Rd, Portville, NY 14770)
The Portville Drive-In, located on twenty-two acres of land in southwest New York, boasts 2 screens, a coupe of the largest in the state. Each screen plays two movies a night so in one night, you can see two films at the drive-in for what you would pay to see one film at most theaters. This locally owned and operated theatre has offered family friendly entertainment since 1970.
The snack stand offers theater classics like popcorn and nachos as well as a variety of candies and sodas, but no alcohol is allowed on the premises. The Portville Theatre reopening date is TBD.
Next, check out the drive-in theater in Astoria, Queens transformed from the parking lot of the Bel -Aire Diner or discover 10 Abandoned Movie Theaters in NYC and NJ, and 12 of NYC’s Lost and Demolished Grand Theaters.