The Drive-In (6-7-1946)

It’s a Friday night in 1946.  That usually means going to a movie.  But you want to do something new, something different, something modern.  You decide to go to the drive-in theater.

Outdoor movies!  When it gets dark, you can sit in your own car and watch a movie on a giant screen.  There’s a speaker phone on a post next to your parking spot.  And you only pay a buck to get in, no matter how many people you load into the car.

Where do you go?  There’s only one drive-in around town, over by Morton Grove there, on Waukegan Road.  But there are plans for more of them.  Yeah, let’s go!  Abbott and Costello are great!

6-7--drive-in ad.jpg

The first drive-in opened in New Jersey in 1933.  But they didn’t become popular until after World War II, when people started buying cars.  In 1946, when the Waukegan Road place opened, there were maybe 50 drive-ins in the whole country.  Ten years later, there were 4,000.

It was the Baby Boom, and everybody was starting a family.  Parents could take the kids with them to the show, and not worry about how much noise the little darlings made.  And when the kids got to be teens and began driving, they could go to the drive-in on dates, and have some privacy if the movie was boring.

At one time, there were more than a dozen drive-ins around Chicago.  Most were in the suburbs, but they did have one in the city itself, on Columbus Avenue on the Southwest Side.


The biggest was the Bel-Air, at 31st and Cicero.  They had back-to-back screens and space for 2,500 cars.  The Harlem-Irving backed up onto a residential street, and you could easily see the screen from there.  That caused big traffic jams when they started showing X-rated films.

Times change.  The drive-ins started closing.  The biggest reasons were the VCR and cable TV, which both became popular in the early ’80s.  Now you could sit at home, watch the movie, and do whatever you used to do in the car at the drive-in.

The Waukegan Road drive-in is gone, and the Bel-Air, and the Harlem-Irving, and most of the rest.  But in West Chicago, the Cascade is still in business.



3 Responses to “The Drive-In (6-7-1946)”

  1. 1 Garry June 8, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    I like the ad for the Teatro [del Lago] in No Man’s Land.
    The reason it was No Man’s Land was that while it naturally should’ve been part of Kenilworth, Kenilworth didn’t want it, because they then couldn’t require the land deeds to have restrictive covenants barring Jews & blacks from owning the property.
    Eventually Wilmette finally annexed it & now there are several high rise apartment buildings there looking down on Kenilworth & they have a whole lot of Jews living there.

    The moral is: Be careful of what you wish for, you might get it!

    • 2 J.R. Schmidt June 9, 2015 at 11:20 am

      Years ago, Prof. Michael Ebner wrote a book titled Chicago’s North Shore. I recall that a Jewish family who moved into Kenilworth in the early 1900s encountered some cold shoulders, but I don’t remember what Ebner said about No Man’s Land. I’ll have to dig into the book again.

  2. 3 Ralph June 19, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    I remember the drive-in on McCormick Blvd., I believe it was the Sunset Drive-In south of Howard Street. They closed around the mid 1970’s.

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