Entertaining Tucson: Volume 1

A run-in with Tucson’s Drive-In’s of the 1950s

By Michael Hamilton 
June 1988 – Entertainment Magazine. Page 17

This page is from the 3-volume set of "Entertaining Tucson Across the Decades."

Tucson is known in some cinema circles as quite a movie-going town. Indeed, the price of admission makes one think that local cinema fans have paid for part of those giant new letters in H.O.L.L.Y.W.O.O.D.! As searchlights rove outside the indoor theatres, let’s pay tribute to several of Tucson’s Drive-In’s– some gone, some refurbished, and some still the same (editor’s note: the last Tucson Drive-In, the DeAnza, closed in 2009).

Condominiums now rise over the ground where the Prince Drive-In [1] gave us “Tammy” and “PT 109.” Northbound cars on Campbell Avenue would often stop to view the showings until landscaping was installed. Gusts of wind felled one screen, yielding a strange sight, like that of white dominoes, lying scattered on the ground ...

Downtown was the “shopping center” in Tucson during the 1950s. Most businesses stretched along a few blocks between Congress, Alameda and Pennington Streets. Congress Street was also the hub for the major four indoor movie theaters, including a Spanish movie house.

The Biltmore Drive-In [2] (the defunct Miracle) on Oracle Road gave us “Charades” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” Films here were projected after kids vacated the amusement rides below the tall screen at twilight. Now, only the tumbleweeds are threatened by encroaching apartment complexes.

The Apache Drive-In [3] added two screen years ago and was famed for the $3 a carload entry ticket (others were trunkload). Once a single plane-and-truss sculpture in the deserted desert, the threes screens are now surrounded by a gathering of Tucson’s new industrial growth.

But the most fun of all lay just beyond the mid-60s marquee of the Midway Drive-In [4] that has since yielded to commerce. The white uniformed attendants took our dollars and my date and I chose a space on a special terraced row between two monaural speakers, known to be working. No doubt it was humorous to watch this scramble for favorite spots in the last row.

Thinking about those good old days brings back memories of lip-reading back-row patrons, lightly pompous Universal Newsreels, and “squelching Cupids,” attendants with red-nibbed flashlights whose job it was to interrupt any activity which did not involve directing your whole attention at the screen.

The July 4th holiday evening was about 80 degrees (my friends in the east couldn’t believe that our drive-ins were also open in the winter). I’d tell them we had two feet of sunshine on the ground. Some jazz music started playing discovered our first “Pink Panther” cartoon complimented by our homegrown “Roadrunner” caricature (Beep! Beep!) Yep, truly the funniest one-word vocabulary around!

The screen dimmed. Floodlights flooded. My date waited loyally in the car while I went to the snack bar for some sarsaparilla and “red hots.” Curiously, all Drive-In eateries seem to be grubby on purpose. Here was an example of a 1949 “adobe abode,” laced with hard cement which had oozed out of the brick joints. Inside? Instant California prices! The precursor of today’s inflation, but few foresaw it.

A look around noted a line of teens, bikers, cowboys and standard Americans. So, back to my car I strolled with my unbalanced divided box of beverages and goodies, even as the rolling topography beneath me was uneven. Tilt! Whew! Almost. … I located my wheels amid the usual sprinkling of ‘57 Chevies, Corvettes and a few “T” bucket roadsters. Getting into my car while avoiding the speaker wire cause me to chip the car paint on the post ... damned “doorknick city.”

My date said her classmate just had her friend call at the theatre so she could have her name paged over the speakers. Oh, those nocturnal shenanigans ...

When it was over, the grove of cars exiting the theatre formed a flotilla waiting to exchange the Midway for the Speedway thoroughfare. We joined the late-night traffic in cruising our favorite “burgerville,” while radio KOMA’s deejay’s dazzled more of the nation’s teen world from Oklahoma City at night.

Those truly were the days-the “sizzling sixties.” Many drive-ins have been driven out, but the soul or “The Last Picture Show” remains... [5]

This page is from the 3-volume set of "Entertaining Tucson Across the Decades," Download a free, 100 page, special edition digital PDF sample of selections from all three volumes, including the full Table of Contents, Indexes and a samples of historical articles and photographs. "Entertaining Tucson Highlights.

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[1] The Prince Drive-In Theater was located at 2015 E. Prince on the Northeast corner of the intersection of Prince Road and Campbell Avenue. It opened in 1953 and closed around 1979. Two workmen were killed when a 57-foot movie screen collapsed during construction (“Arizona Daily Star,” January 11, 1953).

[2] The Biltmore Drive-In, located at 600 W. Glenn at Miracle Mile, opened in the early 1950s. Its named was changed to the Miracle Mile Drive-In in 1963 and closed in 1978. (driveinmemories.com)

[3] The Apache Drive-In, located at 1600 E. Benson Highway opened in May 1955 and closed in 1994. (driveinmemories.com)

[4] The Midway Drive-In, 4500 E. Speedway, was built in 1948 and closed in 1979. (cinematreasures.org)

[5] At one time, Tucson had 10 different Drive-In theaters. All are now closed. The DeAnza, located just south of 22nd Street at 1401 N. Alvernon, opened in 1977 and was the last to close on October 3, 2009. (Source: driveinmemories.com)

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2014-2022 © Entertainment Magazine and BZB Publishing, Inc., Robert Zucker and Newsreal, Jonathan L. All rights are reserved. These are the compiled works of contributed materials from writers and photographers previously published in the Tucson Teen, Magazine, Entertainment Magazine and Newsreal newspapers, and from Entertainment Magazine On Line (EMOL.org). No part of the material protected by this copyright may be reproduced or utilized in any means, electronic or mechanical, without written permission from the publisher.

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