Nostalgia: Movie Magic Memories
The bygone pleasure of drive-in theaters
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.