Nostalgia: Movie Magic Memories
The bygone pleasure of drive-in theaters
mage provided courtesy of: The Charles L. Franck Studio Collection at The Historic New Orleans Collection. Acc no. 1979.325.5849
The growing accessibility of automobiles after World War II changed American culture in many ways, including the rapid growth of the drive-in movie theater industry. Starting with the first one in 1940, by 1960 the Greater New Orleans area boasted 10 drive-in theaters.
New Orleans’ climate meant that drive-ins could be open year-round, but it also meant that mosquito control was a regular concern. Before insect repellent coils could be burned at individual cars, theater employees would walk around the parking lot spraying repellent from a large can.
Families loved drive-ins, as they could pile the whole family into their car, wear whatever they pleased and smoke and talk without concern for other moviegoers. The concessions stands provided easy dinners. Many drive-ins also provided playgrounds and other entertainments to distract children. The family aspect was further encouraged by drive-ins like the Gretna Greens Drive-In, which promised free milk for little ones. Teenagers and courting couples were also frequent drive-in attendees, relishing the socializing as well as the privacy cars afforded them.
The Airline Drive-In Theater opened in 1950 at 400 Airline Highway and was touted as the largest modern drive-in in the South, with a 70-foot-high screen. While the four-lane entrance promised to relieve congestion from cars entering the highway, its popularity and 900-car capacity still caused traffic back-ups.
The Skyvue Drive-In located on Chef Menteur Highway in Gentilly opened in 1951 and was also very popular. Its large sign was blown over during a line of violent thunderstorms in 1970, sinking four trucks parked next door deep into the mud. It was replaced with a larger sign, but the theater closed in 1979.
The television era caused the end of the drive-ins. With VCRs and cable TV allowing film buffs to watch movies at home, fewer people ventured forth for the outdoor movie-viewing experience. By 1983, all the drive-ins in the New Orleans area had closed.
The Algiers Drive-In Theater opened in 1950, located just a few blocks from the Naval Station on General Meyer Blvd. It had an 800 car capacity and a large concession stand, but its most defining feature was its location: set in a bend of the Mississippi River, moviegoers were able to enjoy breezes off the water. It also served as the location for the yearly Miss Algiers Bathing Beauty Contest.