Travel Tips

See the Oldest Drive-In Movie Theater in America

See the Oldest Drive-In Movie Theater in America

Every time I have a date there's only one place to go, That's to the drive in/It's such a groovy place to talk and maybe watch a showdown at the drive in -- The Beach Boys

Some of our readers may not have actually experienced a drive-in theatre and that is just sad.  The excitement of being alone with someone you like and cuddling up while catching a double feature on a nice summer night can be wonderful.  Indeed, the drive-in theatre experience is a part of Americana. And guess what? If you’re vacationing in Pennsylvania you can still enjoy a classic summer night at the oldest operational drive-in theatre in the U.S.

Location

Located in Orefield, Pennsylvania, off Route 309, Shankweiler's Drive-in Movie Theatre is indeed the oldest drive-in movie theatre in the country.  It has reportedly had its doors (or gates) open since 1934. In truth though, the story of Shankweiler's Drive-in Movie Theatre truly begins a good year prior to that.

Background

It was the summer of  1933. In Camden, New Jersey a man named Richard Hollingshead opened the first drive-in theatre in the state as well as the first to officially open in the U.S.  The neighbors in Pennsylvania, however, would, however, have to wait almost another year to experience a drive-in in Pennsylvania. On April 15, 1934, Wilson Shankweiler would be the man to open the first drive-in movie theatre in the state of Pennsylvania.  Located in Orefield, it is also the second drive-in theatre in the country. (In the next quarter of a century, over 4,000 more drive-ins will be opened across the nation.) Soon advances in technology would be introduced into the industry. In 1948 car speakers and speaker poles were added to Shankweiler's Drive-in.

Evolution

The business suffered a terrific blow in 1955 when Hurricane Diane destroyed both the projection booth and the screen. The Shankweiler was down but not out.  They rebuilt and updated the drive-in. They put up a new CinemaScope screen. They also erected a new building that contained not only the projection room but a snack-bar and a restroom. They upgraded in 1982. They installed an AM radio micro-vicinity broadcasting system which allowed customers to listen to the movie on an AM station.  They left the car speakers in place and--as this piece goes to press--the classic car speakers are still there. Four years later things would install an FM radio micro-vicinity broadcasting system. They would actually become the first drive-in theatre to feature FM stereo sound. Red L.E.D. Spectral recorded analog soundtrack readers, a cinema sound processor and a new and improved FM stereo transmitter were put in in 2002. By this time the projection booth needed work too. In 2013 they installed digital projection and sound equipment as well. Today, in its 83rd consecutive season, Shankweiler's Drive-In is still a family-owned and operated the establishment.

Present Day

Today the drive-in shows a double feature every night. The movies change every Thursday. Tickets are presently priced at $10.00 per adult and $6.00 for children between the ages of two and 12. Children under two are admitted free. If your vehicle does not have an FM radio you will need a portable. The only way to hear the movie today is to listen to radio station 90.7 FM.  Door (or gate) time is always two and a half hours before the start of the first feature. So when you’re in Pennsylvania, experience a piece of America’s past at America’s oldest drive-in Shankweiler's Drive-in Movie Theatre.

 

(All photographs are courtesy of the original owners unless otherwise indicated)

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