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The drive-in theater turns 80

The "passion pit" debuted on Admiral Wilson Boulevard

On June 6, 1933 -- 80 years ago tonight -- the world's first drive-in movie theater opened on Admiral Wilson Boulevard in Pennsauken, NJ.  The first feature was an Adolphe Menjou comedy called "Wives Beware."

Richard Hollingshead, of the family that manufactured the "Whiz" line of automobile performance products in Camden, came up with the drive-in concept and tested the technology himself. According to one account, the sound produced by three enormous RCA loudspeakers could be heard for miles.

The theater opened in an era when Admiral Wilson Boulevard and adjacent Crescent Boulevard (Route 130) were lined with flashy attractions and establishments of all sorts, including a dog-racing track, an airport, and an enormous Sears department store (now undergoing demolilition).

While the first drive-in itself didn't last long, Hollingshead's invention turned out to have great legs; by the peak year of 1958, there were 4,063 "outdoor theaters" in the United States. Rising real estate values and changing lifestyles are the main reasons why that number has fallen to 354, says the United Drive-in Theatre Owners Association. The Delsea Drive-In near Vineland is the only one left in New Jersey.

Meanwhile,  Going Attractions, a documentary film about the rise and fall of drive-ins, is now available for your viewing pleasure.