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"Hindsights"


Looking back at:

Making Out at the 87 Drive-In


By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

Going to a movie at a modern indoor theater is about the movie. Going to a movie at the drive-in was about girls, hanging out with friends and showing off your new set of mud grips. If you actually watched Randolph Scott plug the bad guy and then give the schoolmarm a kiss that could water a horse, so much the better.

The drive-in was about the people and the atmosphere. The movie was often incidental.

Even if it was a stinker it was better than staying home and watching the 2 snowy channels on your black and white TV set. You even had to get off the couch to change the channel.

The American drive-in movie craze began in the 1930s. A whole culture grew up around it.

The drive-in was a community event for all ages. Children played on the swings in front of the giant screen. Older folks set up folding chairs in front of their cars or parked their pickups backward and sat on chairs in the bed. Some families brought sleeping bags for the kids.

You could bring your own food and beverages. The drive-in was the original dinner and a movie.

Early arrivals got the preferred spots - front and center if you wanted to watch the movie or the back row if you had other things in mind.

Time slowed down at the drive-in. There was no rigid schedule. Starting times varied with the seasons. The projectionist had to wait for mother-nature to turn down the house lights. The show began at dusk, whenever that was.

Most of all the drive-in was about freedom. Your parents weren't around. You were outdoors. You weren't confined to a seat. You don't have to shut up for 2 hours. You could walk around, annoy people in the other cars or toss a Frisbee with a friend.

Fredericksburg's drive-in was the 87 Drive-In Theater. It sat in a field next to a peach orchard on what is now a vacant lot on the corner of Highway 87 and Friendship Lane.


Fredericksburg, Texas - 87 Drive-In Theatre
The 87 Drive-In Theater in Fredericksburg taken in April 1949 - 2 months before it opened
Click on image to enlarge
Courtesy of the Gillespie County Historical Society

The 87 Drive-In opened to great fanfare on June 11, 1949. I don't know the name of the movie that played that first night, but one of the early films shown at the 87 Drive-In was the The Kissing Bandit starring Frank Sinatra. I've been told the kissing on the screen was a drop in the bucket compared to the lip action in the audience.

There was a reason drive-ins were called passion pits.

The 87 Drive-In had spaces for 300 cars. The original screen was 50 ft. by 50 ft. There was a recreational area for kids up front along with seating space for adults - all surrounded by a 7 ft. fence.

A night at the 87 Drive-In was a bargain - $2 a head to get in not counting the number of friends you could stuff in the trunk. Children under 12 got in free. On certain nights the price of admission was $5 a carload.

Often on weekends the 87 Drive-In showed a double feature. Connoisseurs of fine cinema could see Beach Blanket Bingo and I was a Teenage Werewolf for the price of 1 ticket.

It's been a long time since I've been to a drive-in, but I had an experience a while back that reminded me how much fun watching a film under the stars, both celestial and cinematic, could be. On a trip to San Antonio my wife and I saw John Wayne's "The Alamo" in Alamo Plaza in front of the Alamo. It was unforgettable.

In the 1950s, at the peak of drive-in mania, there were about 4,000 drive-ins across the country. Then cable television, VCRs and DVDs put most drive-ins out of business.

Land prices in cities skyrocketed causing developers to swallow up drive-ins for strip malls.

For most of us a night at the drive-in is part of an era that has vanished from the American landscape.

Fredericksburg's 87 Drive-In is long gone, but there are about 400 drive-ins across the country still in business.

Drive-ins are not extinct, but they are on the endangered species list.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" November 15, 2021 Column



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