A Look Back at the Newark Drive-In -- Lifestyle of a Bygone Era

by Nat Bodian


The Newark Drive-In opened near Newark Airport in 1955 and was hailed as one of the largest in the United States, with a 2,400 car capacity.

It was the 35th drive-in operation in New Jersey and ranked fourth nationally in size among the 4,000 then in operation.

The Newark opening came at a time when most Americans were infatuated with automobile convenience, the heavy output of Hollywood movies, and fast food.

Like its counterparts, the Newark Drive-In offered an incomparable movie experience: You could watch a double feature movie with the entire family in the comfort of your car, under a star-filled sky. You could bring the kids and save on a baby sitter. You could even bring the pets. You could talk, breath in the fresh air, get out and stretch your legs during the show without inconveniencing others.

Typical Drive-In Schedule

One of the great variables at the Newark Drive-In was the starting schedule. The operational schedule changed weekly, starting at twilight during summer hours. The rest of the year, the operating program began promptly at dusk.

First to appear on the 120-foot wide screen was usually a cartoon for the kiddies. Then the first of the two nightly feature films, and then the Intermission.

The Intermission usually ran around 20 minutes. During that interval between feature films, the time on the screen was filled with snack commercials, the concession stand menu, previews of coming attractions, and another cartoon.

Enough time was allotted to permit a full 29 minutes of fast food service at the concession stand, and of course, socializing around the stand.

On nights when there was a late night movie, usually a horror film, as a third attraction, there would be a second Intermission between these features as well.

Inside the Newark Drive-In

To those of you who never experienced the Newark Drive-In, I'll try to describe how it was laid out.

As you entered the Newark Drive-In you were confronted with an illuminated sign that said "Lights Out Please".

Inside, the theatre was arranged in a series of arc-shaped ramps around the huge white movie screen. Each succeeding ramp was a little higher than the ramp in front of it. This enabled the patrons to see over the top of the cars directly in front of them.

The car-side speaker straddled the car door and was connected to an adjacent speaker pole. There was a speaker pole for each of the 2,400 car positions. Many often were not working properly or had been torn from the post at the previous showing.

When you got a bad or non-working speaker, you relocated to another parking spot.

We went with our young sons in their pajamas, filled them with goodies from the concession stand while awake or during Intermission, and they'd be sound asleep by the time we left for home. As you paid by the carload, the kids came for free.

Appeal of Drive-In to Young Singles

For young 'singles' who came to the Drive-In with dates, the place had a different kind of appeal. They were able to enjoy privacy, get away from parents, and many went alone or in groups and socialized before the start of the show and during the Intermission.

They would usually congregate around the concession stand, which offered a wide variety of snacks, food, and drinks. The stand was a big money-maker with most of its activity before the start of the show and during Intermission.

Appeal to Independent Teenagers

The mid-1950s when the Newark Drive-In opened was, according to an article in Box Office Magazine, "and era that saw the emergence of the independent teenager."

"The young shavers who had attended the drive-in with their family in the late 1940s now drove to the drive-in with their boyfriends or girlfriends. It was the first time that teenagers had affluence. They had money, they had cars, and if they wanted to do something, why not go to a movie in your car?

"The drive-in," the article continued, "offered teens a place to meet and hang out, to get away from their parents. The actual movie wasn't important. It was the act of getting to the drive-in."

Newark Patron Recollections

Dolores Boutureira, in an earlier Old Newark Memory, recalled her visits to the Newark Drive-In: "I saw many a 'Horror' movie there, along with all of Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns...and Steve McQueen's movie 'Bullet' with the best ever classic 'car chase' up and down the roller coaster streets of San Francisco. Always two movies shown, not just one."

She recalled further "The Newark Drive-In was another meeting place for all, whether a carload full, or in separate cars. The snack building. Those little green things you burned in your car to keep the summertime mosquitoes away...the heaters in the car in the fall/winter months...and the speakers that hung in the car, that sometimes squeaked if they were faulty...and finding yourself driving away with it, if you forgot to put the speaker back on its stand."

Ed Polukord had this recollection of the Newark Drive-In, which he referred to as "The Passion Pit": ... and who would ever forget those two features, and the one o'clock 'Horror' show every Friday and Saturday night."

End of Drive-In Era

The year 1991 signaled the end of the drive-in era that started in New Jersey in 1933 when the Newark Drive-In closed, after declining patronage.

The Newark Drive-In Owners

The Newark Drive-In was built and operated by the National Amusements Company, a family-owned company based in Dedham, Mass. The founding father, Michael Redstone started the business in 1936.

Son, Summer, opened the Newark Drive-In at 104 Foundry Street in 1955 and continued to add many more drive-ins patterned after the Newark Drive-In operation.

The company is still in business and has since expanded into one of the world's largest family-owned companies. It is listed on the stock exchange as "VIACOM" and reportedly does a yearly volume in excess of $26 billion from various media and entertainment enterprises.



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