Drive-In movies once dotted the landscape of Long Island, providing inexpensive summertime entertainment to millions of families. Today, they exist solely in our memories, a reminder of a simpler time before the birth of the megoplex concrete bunkers that began to infest the landscape.
Drive-Ins were a part of American culture for the better part of seven decades. The first one opened in New Jersey in 1933 and dozens soon followed around the country. The sound was initially provided by towering speakers near the screen which created numerous problems due to sound delays. In 1941, the folks at RCA came to the rescue, creating the first in-car speakers with their own volume controls. By the time the 50s arrived, there were upwards of 4,000 drive-in theaters across the country.
Over the years, Long Island had its fair share of drive-in movies, in places like Commack, Melville, Bay Shore, Rocky Point and Bethpage, among others. Many featured a playground for the kids to burn off their abundant energy before the film started, and each featured a snack bar that usually had more food options than the tradition candy and popcorn. Double features were common and most places charged by the carload. For a family, it was a wonderful way to spend a summer evening.
(Our Images Gallery features a group of Long Island Drive-In movie theaters from the 70s)
Sadly, in the 80s, Drive-Ins began to disappear across the country. It wasn’t due to any lack of popularity, mind you, but the fiscal reality that the enormous plots of real estate they inhabited became more valuable than the businesses. The last Long Island Drive-In closed in Westbury in 1998, marking the end of an era. Although there are still a few scattered around New York, it would appear those are all located upstate. If you have a full tank of gas and are feeling particularly nostalgic, however, you can search for the nearest drive-in using this handy online resource.
We’d love to hear your own memories of drive-in movies. Which ones did you frequent? What movies did you see? Maybe more importantly, would you go to one if they were available today? Feel free to share all your recollections in our comments section.