Lights, Camera, Action! New Jersey’s Last Drive-In Theater Celebrates 90 Years of Entertainment!
Have you ever experienced the sheer joy of watching a movie under the starry sky, snuggled up in blankets, and munching on popcorn from the comfort of your car? If you haven't, you're missing out on a truly magical experience. Drive-in movie theaters, once a staple of American entertainment, are now a rare gem. And believe it or not, New Jersey is home to only one remaining drive-in theater in the entire state!
During a friend's birthday weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting the Skyline Drive-In Movie Theater in Brooklyn, New York, and it was an absolute blast. The Manhattan skyline served as a backdrop while we immersed ourselves in the latest addition to the Fast and Furious franchise, Fast X. Although the movie had its fair share of over-the-top stunts and cheesy lines like "The only thing you know about Rome is Roman-noodles" (Tej) and "I don't care about dying. I only care about protecting the people I love," (Dom) it still managed to entertain us. However, the true star of the show was the entire experience itself.
No matter which movie played that night, we unanimously agreed that the ambiance and nostalgic feeling surrounding the drive-in theater made it incredibly special.
During the movie, a thought crossed my mind—did New Jersey still have any outdoor theaters left? Intrigued, I searched and stumbled upon a fascinating fact: the first drive-in movie theater in the United States was in New Jersey! Yes, right here in the Garden State. In 1933, just outside Camden, the "Automobile Movie Theater" opened its doors. The founder and operator, Richard Hollingshead, had a brilliant vision for a unique entertainment experience.
Imagine this: in those early days, you could load up your car with family and friends and catch a movie for only 25 cents per car, plus an additional 25 cents per person. The first movie ever shown at this historic drive-in was the English comedy Wives Beware. The plot revolves around a man trapped in an unsatisfying marriage who fakes amnesia to pursue extramarital adventures. Surprisingly enough, that storyline could still be in today's cinema!
My love affair with drive-in theaters started during my childhood years in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. There were numerous drive-ins in the area, and the joy of slipping into pajamas, packing snacks, and snuggling under blankets to watch movies like ET was truly magical. Even if we couldn't make it through the second or third feature, there was something undeniably cool about the experience.
Back in high school, I scored the ultimate gig at the now-defunct Cottage View Drive-In. It was a dream come true for a young movie enthusiast like me. From taking tickets to slinging popcorn, I worked my way up to becoming a manager, reveling in the fascination that unfolded behind the scenes. Handling those iconic film canisters, delicately splicing the reels together, and threading them into the projector felt like wielding a magical wand. I was part of the secret sorcery that brought the latest movies to life on that big outdoor screen.
Another vivid memory that played out almost every night was the audacious attempts of carloads of people trying to sneak into the drive-in without paying. Their cars, filled to the brim with kids, were a sight to behold. The straining trunk bounced like a low-rider, always giving away their not-so-subtle scheme. We all knew what was going on, but many times we decided to indulge in their triumphant moment of "getting away with it." The thrill on their faces was infectious, and who could blame them?
Fast forward to today, and it's bittersweet to acknowledge that New Jersey is down to its last remaining drive-in theater. Located in Vineland, the Delsea Drive-In Movie Theatre recently celebrated its 90th anniversary on June 6th. This unique venue, less than an hour's drive from Atlantic City, Philadelphia, and Delaware stands as a testament to the enduring charm of outdoor cinema. If you find yourself nearby and crave a truly special and nostalgic movie experience, visiting the Delsea Drive-In is an absolute must!
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