Skip to content

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)

26 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.

    • Bert permalink
      September 9, 2018 11:10 pm

      I worked at Mission in the 1980’s

    • leeroy meadows permalink
      November 13, 2018 9:34 am

      I worked at the alamo snack bar 1968, my dad Jack Meadows was projectionist. He worked every drive in in town I dont believe the sanpedro twin opened until the70,s I could be wrong. He ran that one too

  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.

    • Bert permalink
      September 9, 2018 11:13 pm

      One opened in New Braunfels TX

  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.

  8. Tom Finch permalink
    December 29, 2017 11:59 am

    I remember going to the Fredericksburg Drive in with my parents in our 37 Plymouth and the speakers were in the ground, around 1940. I remember the winking lady’s face on the street side of the screen structure.

    I remember when they built the first San Pedro Drive In and had hunted rabbits on that land before that.

  9. Marcie permalink
    January 1, 2018 1:16 pm

    Does anyone remember or have pictures or any information of the Roxy Drive-inn outdoor, going out Pleasanton rd.. We lived on Baltzel rd. late 50’s.

    • Ruben p permalink
      May 3, 2018 8:59 pm

      It was on Somerset Rd. Crossing miltary going south.

      • M.G. Quinney permalink
        September 8, 2018 6:32 pm

        The drive-in you are thinking about, Ruben, is the Lackland Drive-In. The Roxy that Marcie remembers was indeed on Pleasanton Rd in the triangle where Pleasanton Rd. veers to the left and Moursand Rd. continues straight. I lived in Harlandale and used to go to both of those theaters as well as the Trail, Mission, Loop 13, Kelly, and Circle 81, as well as the indoor theaters such as the Harlandale Theater on S. Flores and the Hi-Ho Theater on S. Presa. Those were really the “good ol’ days.”

  10. Robert Sanchez permalink
    September 16, 2018 11:37 am

    The Varsity Drive-In!!!
    I saw some great movies there with my family in an old 57 Chevy station wagon.
    My mom would pack an ice chest with sandwiches, and snacks, and we each got one can of soda.

    This November I decided to have Varsity Night in my drive-way. I am going to move my 60 in TV to the drive-way, turn-off all the lights and watch a double feature. I am to pick a chilly night and have my children invite all their friends. All of you are invited….. 🙂

    If you’re in Houston, come on over….

    oh yeah….. “static..static….. snack bar closes in 10 mins……” haha

  11. richard truesdell permalink
    July 23, 2019 12:42 pm

    Richard
    Thank you everyone for the memories, I went to the Rigsby drive in, Trail, Parkair and Towne twin. There is a Stars and Stripes drive in theater in New Braunfels Tx.

  12. GARY E DUNCAN permalink
    May 28, 2020 11:24 am

    Thanks for the memories….

  13. Oorty permalink
    October 6, 2020 6:16 pm

    Anyone remember the Fiesta drive-in on the corner of Gen. McMullen and W. Commerce?

  14. Yolanda garza permalink
    January 22, 2021 5:50 am

    Hi looking up memories…wold like to see pictures and addresses of old drive inn in San Antonio..we try to remember ones we visited as kids w our families..I know there were several. A list of all would b nice

    • San Anto permalink
      February 19, 2021 2:28 am

      On the westside at Old Hwy 90 and 36th street was El Capitan drive inn. Also, my favorite was Fiesta drive Inn on W. Commerce and Gen. McMullen. Back of it was woods and a creek. We used to sneak in through holes in the back wall. There were big swings in the front plus benches with speakers to watch the movie. But you had to look up at huge screen. Awesome fun times. I am looking for photos.

  15. Yolanda garza permalink
    January 28, 2021 7:17 pm

    Love going back in time..great memories..we’ve driven around town checking out these old locations..sad too say. ..only the memories remain..thank you

Trackbacks

  1. The Campus and The College « dsoderblog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: