History and Cinema Collide | The Family Drive-In’s 62nd Anniversary Weekend

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History and Cinema Collide | The Family Drive-In’s 62nd Anniversary Weekend
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Blue Ridge, Events, Go Blue Ridge Travel, Shenandoah Valley
The Family Drive In Screen

This weekend, you can expect to see an awesome line-up at The Family-Drive In Theatre in celebration of their 62nd Anniversary! On screen 1, Ocean’s 8 and Adrift, following a rare showing of Grease the prior night. On screen 2 you can expect to see two great titles that are sure to please the entire audience: Star Wars’ latest installation, Solo, followed by the hugely successful Deadpool 2.

And now, a bit of history…

In 1933, couples parked their cars on the grounds of Park-In Theaters, the first-ever drive-in movie theater, located in NJ. Originally called “Park In Theaters”, it  was the brainchild of Richard Hollingshead, a movie fan and a sales manager at his father’s company. His mother struggled to find a comfortable spot in traditional movie seats, so her son, Richard, came up with the idea of an open-air theater where people watched movies in the comfort of their own automobiles. First, he experimented in the driveway of his parents’ home with different projection and sound, mounting a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his car, stretching a canvas to some trees, and placing a radio behind the screen for sound. He envisioned the ideal spacing for a certain number of cars so everyone could clearly see the movie being shown.The Family Drive-In first drive in location

In May of 1933, he received a patent for the concept in and opened Park-In Theaters, Inc. He advertised it as entertainment for the whole family. The idea caught on, and after Hollingshead’s patent was overturned in 1949, drive-in theaters began popping up all over the country.

 It was 1956 when William Dalke Jr built his in the midst of an American drive-in building boom. Owning indoor theaters was a family business venture. William Dalke, Sr.(Tim’s grandfather), owned 7 theaters including the New Market in Mount Jackson, the Strand in Strasburg and Winchester’s Palace Theatre.

Tim, Mr. Dalke’s son, doesn’t know why he chose to open a drive in. Maybe it was the nostalgia of high school days when young men drove their souped up cars with their favorite girl  on a date. Whatever the reason, Tim was an excited nine year old boy when the drive in came to fruition on that deserted piece of country land.Growing up, he and his three brothers would help out at the drive in and enjoyed the not- so-common chores. While their friends were mowing lawns and washing cars, he and his family were making sure the drive in was a fun memory making event.

The economics of running an outdoor theater today are different. Back then, the film rental was a whole lot cheaper. Showing the films could be just as lucrative as the concessions.Drive-in theaters showed mostly B-movies–that is, not Hollywood’s finest fare–but some theaters featured the same movies that played in regular theaters. The popularity of the drive-in spiked after WWII and reached its heyday in the late 1950s to mid-60s, with some 5,000 theaters across the country. Drive-ins became an icon of American culture, and a typical weekend destination not just for parents and children but also for teenage couples seeking romantic interlude. Since then, however, the rising price of real estate, especially in suburban areas, combined with the growing numbers of walk-in theaters and the rise of video rentals has curbed the growth of the drive-in industry. Today, fewer than 500 drive-in theaters survive in the United States.

The Family Drive-In's Jim Kopp

Jim Kopp | via Washington Post

One such surviving drive-in is our very own The Family Drive-In Theatre. Its owner, Jim Kopp, believes that the Family Drive-In experience hasn’t changed much after 62 years. Kopp thinks there is a certain charm to having an old fashion way to view movies and he can’t be too far off the mark as he had over 131,000 movie patrons visit the drive-in just last year, mainly from the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area, but also from 25 states and seven foreign countries.

Jim, a native of Virginia, spent his teenage years at the Super 29 drive-in on Route 29 between Centreville and Fairfax.  The Family Drive-In Theatre defines the hometown feel of the section of U.S. Route 11 that runs through Stephens City, where lots of friendly faces bring back the good old days. Jim Kopp still has the original projection room and screen intact, though he recently went digital with his movies. He has been a patron since 1986. Though he spent a career working for the Library of Congress, drive-in movie theaters are his first love. “I grew up in Pittsburgh, and we used to have 35 drive-in theaters there,” he says. “We went to the drive-in every weekend. I always thought it would be fun to own one.” Kopp is no novice either when it comes to drive-in theaters. Before he began leasing the Family Drive-In, he owned a theater in Henderson, N.C. with his wife, Megan Kopp, who passed away in July 2013. Jim’s home still showcases drive-in memorabilia: signage, programs, toys, jigsaw puzzles, assorted artifacts that he and Megan have collected over the years.The Family Drive-In

Nine years ago he acquired the two-screen Family Drive-In Theatre. Don’t think drive-in movies are some outdated piece of nostalgia. Kopp keeps his theater full. It holds 434 vehicles, and sometimes patrons have to walk-in when there is no parking left. “Eighty-five percent of my audience is families with young children,” he notes. He has a playground so kids can enjoy the movies while swinging and slipping down slides. “Drive-in theaters are my passion,” he explains. “When I worked for the Library of Congress, I went around and took pictures of drive-ins around the country, and whenever someone had a question about drive-ins, people came to me.” Kopp’s theater isn’t only kid-friendly. It’s also dog-friendly, which makes sense given that Kopp is rarely seen without his faithful drive-in dogs, Bubby, a golden retriever and Oliver, a German Shepherd.

This particular weekend, Jim will be sitting in a noisy projection booth at the Family Drive In off of Route 11 in Virginia’s northernmost county. Two lumbering projectors throw 3,000-watt beams of light to a 60-by-80-foot screen, where Grease will play for an audience of minivans, pickup trucks and folks in lawn chairs around 8:45 p.m. on a Thursday in June. 

If you want to grab tickets for the upcoming movies, click here! Otherwise, keep your eyes on The Family Drive-In’s event page and our blogs for updates. We’ll be seeing you this weekend at the only local destination where you can view cinema magic beneath the stars, The Family Drive In Theatre!