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San Antonio Drive-In Movie Theaters

August 19, 2013

The first drive-in movie theater in San Antonio opened on October 23, 1940.  The “Drive-In Theatre,” its original name, was located a short distance outside the city limits on Fredericksburg Road.  Newspaper advertisements at the time noted that the “Drive-In Theatre was originated to bring entertainment to the aged, the unfortunately crippled, and the family with small children.”  Featuring two shows nightly, The Drive-In could accommodate 482 cars.  It would remain the only local drive-in theater until after World War II.

In April 1946, the second drive-in opened:  the Alamo Drive-In Theater, located outside the city limits on Austin Highway.  By summer, two others had opened and the Drive-In on Fredericksburg Road became known as the Fredericksburg Drive-In.  With post-war prosperity and a growing automobile culture, drive-in theaters had caught on in San Antonio.  The San Antonio Light published an article, with photographs, on May 14, 1948 stating that the “popularity of the drive-in theater is increasing steadily.”  These images of local moviegoers at the recently opened San Pedro Outdoor Theatre are preserved in the San Antonio Light Photograph Collection (MS 359).

Drive-in theaters remained popular in San Antonio until their decline in the 1970s.  During those years of operation, theater owners commissioned the Zintgraff Studio to photograph some of their facilities.  These images of projection rooms, neon artwork, and marquee signs are included in the Zintgraff Studio Photograph Collection (MS 355).

With the exception of the screen tower of the Mission Drive-In, only small remnants remain of the other drive-ins that were located around the city.  The photographs in the Zintgraff and Light Collections are valuable reminders of this popular form of entertainment.

 

Mural of an actress on the screen tower of the Fredericksburg Drive-In Theatre, 3534 Fredericksburg Road, 1940s.  (MS 355:  Z-1216-B-4)

Mural of an actress on the screen tower of the Fredericksburg Drive-In Theatre, 3534 Fredericksburg Road, 1940s. (MS 355: Z-1216-B-4)

Alamo Drive-In Theater, 1428 Austin Highway, next to Modern Trailer Court at intersection of Harry Wurzbach Highway.  (MS 355:  Z-1010-A-15)

Alamo Drive-In Theater, 1428 Austin Highway, next to Modern Trailer Court near intersection of Harry Wurzbach Highway. (Detail of MS 355: Z-1010-A-15)

San Pedro Outdoor Theatre, 7142 San Pedro Avenue, May 1948.  (MS 359:  L-3571-H)

San Pedro Outdoor Theatre, 7142 San Pedro Avenue, May 1948. (MS 359: L-3571-H)

Attendant Bud Grote hands an in-car speaker to Thomas Speakman at San Pedro Outdoor Theatre, May 1948.  (MS 359:  L-3571-D)

Attendant Bud Grote hands an in-car speaker to Thomas Speakman at San Pedro Outdoor Theatre, May 1948. (MS 359: L-3571-D)

Eva and Jack Hefner and their guest watch movie on what was then the largest motion picture screen in Texas, San Pedro Outdoor Theatre, May 1948.  (MS 359:  L-3571-K)

Eva and Jack Hefner and their guest watch movie on what was then the largest motion picture screen in Texas, San Pedro Outdoor Theatre, May 1948. (MS 359: L-3571-K)

Marvel Smith and her husband, Kelso Smith, see a movie without hiring a babysitter, May 1948.  (MS 359:  L-3571-F)

Marvel Smith and her husband, Kelso Smith, see a movie without hiring a babysitter, May 1948. (MS 359: L-3571-F)

Mrs. J. M. McIntyre follows movie from concession stand as she heats baby’s milk with bottle warmer, May 1948.  (MS 359:  L-3571-J)

Mrs. J. M. McIntyre follows movie from concession stand as she heats baby’s milk with bottle warmer, May 1948. (MS 359: L-3571-J)

Lee Marshall, carhop, receives payment from Myrtle Bridges, May 1948.  (MS 359:  L-3571-I)

Lee Marshall, carhop, receives payment from Myrtle Bridges, May 1948. (MS 359: L-3571-I)

Elaborate mural depicting a cowboy in a Western landscape on the screen tower of the Trail Drive-In Theatre, 1030 Southeast Military Drive, 1967.  (MS 355:  Z-1992-A-65889)

Elaborate mural depicting a cowboy in a Western landscape on the screen tower of the Trail Drive-In Theatre, 1030 Southeast Military Drive, 1967. (MS 355: Z-1992-A-65889)

Aerial view, looking northeast, showing the Trail Drive-In shortly after it opened in 1946.  Roosevelt Avenue and Mission San Jose are at upper right.  MS 355:  Z-1992-A)

Aerial view, looking northeast, showing the Trail Drive-In shortly after it opened in 1946. Roosevelt Avenue and Mission San Jose are at upper right. MS 355: Z-1992-A)

Projection booth at Lackland Drive-In Theatre, 7208 Somerset Road, 1963.   (MS 355:  Z-1468-A-34068)

Projection booth at Lackland Drive-In Theatre, 7208 Somerset Road, 1963. (MS 355: Z-1468-A-34068)

Projection booth at Towne Twin Drive-In Theatre, 4719 Dietrich Road, 1963.  (MS 355:  Z-1468-B-34077)

Projection booth at Towne Twin Drive-In Theatre, 4719 Dietrich Road, 1963. (MS 355: Z-1468-B-34077)

Tent sale outside Parkair Drive-In Theatre, 1301 Goliad Road, July 1960.  (MS 355:  Z-0321-A-19410)

Tent sale outside Parkair Drive-In Theatre, 1301 Goliad Road, July 1960. (MS 355: Z-0321-A-19410)

Foremost milk employees pose below neon mural depicting nearby Mission San Jose, Mission Drive-In Theatre, 3100 Roosevelt Avenue, 1950.  (MS 355:  Z-0738)

Foremost milk employees pose below neon mural depicting nearby Mission San Jose, Mission Drive-In Theatre, 3100 Roosevelt Avenue, 1950. (MS 355: Z-0738)

12 Comments leave one →
  1. Jim Miller permalink
    August 19, 2013 9:16 pm

    Great photos, and lots of good memories of the San Antonio Drive Ins. I had the pleasure of working at most of the 22 drive ins that once were in the San Antonio area. My favorites were the Varsity, Lackland, Capitan, and the San Pedro. I wish I would have taken pictures of the drive ins when I worked at them.

    • Bruno Garcia Jr permalink
      July 10, 2015 9:27 am

      I too remember the good times at the Varsity drive-inn i can remember Mr. John Hennry big tall Security Guard Mrs. Mary Black in the box office and Mr Fernandes the manager. Do you remember the big easter bunny we had in 1975. that was my sister. You know it would be nice to have a reunion of all employees who worked there at that time.l can set here and reminisce of old times but i gots to get to work.

    • Denise Miller permalink
      January 29, 2017 5:55 pm

      I lived in san Antonio texas in 1961 as a child. I think we may have been possibly in the outskirts of san Antonio and I remember it was very hot. a drive in theater was close by. my parents were split up and we were from Michigan. we rented a house in a sub division. I wish I could remember where it was exactly.

  2. Mathew McNatt permalink
    March 5, 2014 6:15 pm

    @ Jim Miller. Hi, Jim. Would you happen to know who might have one of those “speaker shelters” in the photos? Used at the San Pedro. I’m an avid drive in theater collector. I’ve been looking for 11 years and have never seen one for sale. Even if it’s rusty or broken I will take it! I have those round metal speakers, just need that shelter they’re housed in. I collect speakers, jboxes, literature, catalogs..anything related to old driveins. Thanks, Mathew.

  3. Dorothy Kanute permalink
    August 2, 2014 10:41 am

    I wish photos of all the fronts of the old drive-ins from the 60’s in San Antonio where on line. I have found photos of Trail and Mission from that era and they bring back fond memories of the years going to those dating and married with children sleeping in back of our station wagon. Would love to see others such as lackland drive in and others from southside

    • ALMA permalink
      September 27, 2014 6:32 pm

      @ DORTHY WHAT WAS THE NAME OF THE DRIVE INN BEHIND WHERE THE KROGERS ON SW MILITARY DR WAS BACK THEN IT WAS A CAR LOT AND MORE OR LESS ACROSS THE NOW SOUTH PARK MALL AREA TO GET IN YOU DROVE IN PASS THE CAR LOT AND SCREENS BACK WAS FACING THE NOW SOUTH PARK MALL AREA THANKS ALMA

      • Randy LaFosse permalink
        January 22, 2015 1:09 pm

        I believe it was called the Loop 13 Drive In

  4. leeroy meadows permalink
    September 22, 2015 9:24 pm

    my dad,jack meadows I think ran every theater in the town at one time or another.Buck Jones got him started at the Alamo. From there ran every gulf states theaters,as a projectionist. I watched many shows at the san pedro twin from on top the snack bar in a lawn chair.I worked the snack bar at the Alamo,ran by terry clark &wife.I helped Buck Jones stripe the parking lot at the bun &barrel in 1969 after we closed & cleaned the snack bar.Mr Santikos would call my dad( a ww2 aircraft electrician) tell him if a projectionist couldn’t make it to work. He always knew my dad would work any theatre.He even worked the starlight drive in one night.Worked the Broadway &the Olmos many times.Most people have no idea how hot it was inside a projection booth.It seems a shame our kids will never see a drive in.

  5. Rob permalink
    March 9, 2016 12:46 am

    Buck night was one of the best times to go to the drive in. Pile in about 8 or ten people in the car and have a fun time

  6. Greg Brooks permalink
    July 19, 2016 5:00 pm

    Great article I remember all of those drive inn’s except Park Air on Goliad Rd. I grew up on the SE Side of town. Thanks for a walk down memory lane.

  7. James permalink
    September 11, 2016 2:03 pm

    El Rancho Drive In san Jose, Ca.

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