The drive-in theater was one of the iconic crazes of the 1950s. While the first drive-in was actually in Camden, New Jersey in 1933, the popularity of the drive-in didn’t take off until the 1950s. Drive-ins offered some things that their indoor counterparts didn’t. Overall, the atmosphere befitted its casual summertime setting. At a drive-in, you could bring a baby, smoke, dress more casually, and be much louder as the speakers hooked right up to your car.
McHenry didn’t get passed up in this popular trend. In July 1951, McHenry got its first drive-in theater, the Skyline. Owned by Roy Miller, the screen was listed as facing northwest, as opposed to now as it faces southeast. The Skyline was in the same location that the McHenry Outdoor is at today. The screen was 52’ x 70’ and was the only outdoor theater in the vicinity. It also had illuminated speaker posts and a refreshment stand. The illuminated speaker posts didn’t just offer the audio from the movie, but also served as a guide telling customers where to park. The snack bar offered BBQ burgers and pizza among other refreshments. By 1956, the Skyline had a 104’ long screen and was showing two movies nightly. In 1963, Roy Miller sold the Skyline to Stan Kohlberg of Chicago. At that time, Mr. Kohlberg owned eight other theaters and had three more under construction.
While McHenry’s outdoor theater still stands, most weren’t so lucky. One big advantage indoor theaters had was profit. Indoor theaters weren’t dependent on the season or weather, therefore, they could play movies more frequently, thus make more money for movie studios. In the late 1950s there were about 4000 drive-ins, today there are about 400. Apparently, most drive-ins were “mom and pop” businesses that didn’t have people who wanted to take over the business when operators retired. Yet the McHenry Outdoor still stands today as a nostalgic glimpse of Americana.
*This article was inspired by the sign in the picture at the top taken last summer (2016). Sadly it seems to have been blown down this spring.
“McHenry Will Have Drive-In Theater Soon.” McHenry Plaindealer 27 Jul. 1950: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 Mar 2017.
“Drive-In Theater Announces Official Opening on July 20.” McHenry Plaindealer 19 Jul. 1951: 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 Mar 2017.
“Skyline Drive-In Advertisement.” McHenry Plaindealer 12 Jul. 1956: 4. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 Mar 2017.
“New Theater Owner.” McHenry Plaindealer 3 Jul. 1963: 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 27 Mar 2017.