The lovely home to the left is located in Riverton, NJ, a small town about 10 miles north of Camden. It was here that Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr. invented the drive-in theater back in 1932. According to one of the house’s current next door neighbors, Hollingshead originally began experimenting with outdoor film screenings as a means of providing entertainment for his disabled mother. He applied for the outdoor movie house patent that same year and opened the first drive-in theater in June of 1933 in nearby Pennsauken. This theater was definitely located within a close proximity to Airport Circle, but reports of its exact whereabouts vary, placing it everywhere from Crescent Boulevard to Admiral Wilson Boulevard to Airport Highway. If you’re having trouble visualizing the area, it’s where the large Circle Thrift and the “PUB” sign are located.
My roughneck Fishtown neighbors were sitting on their front stoops last night, which means that summer aka drive-in season is officially here. Pennsylvania has a wealth of active, quality drive-in theaters, many of which date back 50 years or more. Here are the ones within a reasonable driving distance:
Vineland, NJ (40 miles south of Center City)
Two screen drive-in dating back to 1949.
Shankweiler’s Drive-In Theater
Orefield, PA (60 miles northwest of Center City)
“America’s oldest drive-in” was opened in 1934 and was reportedly America’s second drive-in theater. One screen.
Becky’s Drive-In Theater
Walnutport, PA (70 miles northwest of Center City)
A stone’s throw from Shankweiler’s sits Becky’s, a two-screener that opened back in 1946.
Pike Drive-In Theater
Montgomery, PA (170 miles north of Center City)
Began as a single screen in 1954, now three screens.
Just 10 miles northwest of Becky’s is the Mahoning Drive-In, a one-screener, and outside of that there are at least eight other active drive-in theaters in eastern-to-central PA. So get out there this summer and support an American institution while you still can.
For further information on drive-in theater history I highly recommend Joe Bob Goes To the Drive-In by the great Joe Bob Briggs. Out-of-print, but easy to find.
And if you’re interested in hosting your own drive-in theater experience, check out Horsham, PA’s On Location Cinema and invite Cinedelphia over. We’ll bring the popcorn.
Author: Eric Bresler
Eric is the Founder/Site Editor of Cinedelphia.com whose additional activities are numerous: Director/Curator of the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (PhilaMOCA), founder of Tokyo No Records, the brain behind Video Pirates, and active local film programmer including the Unknown Japan screening series. He’s served as a TLA Video Manager, Philadelphia Film Society Managing Director, and Adjunct Professor in Cinema Studies at Drexel University. He is shy and modest. Email Eric.