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When the big drive-in movie theaters kept Austinites entertained

Once a popular form of movie-going, small drive-ins are becoming popular again nationwide.

AUSTIN, Texas — It was a full night of movie entertainment from the comfort of your car: The drive-in theater, popular in the 1950s and '60s when there were nearly 4,000 drive-ins in towns large and small across America.

Tickets back in the '50s were 25 cents a car plus 25 cents for each person in the car. Like the movie theaters today, most of the theater owners’ profits came from food and popcorn sales. Patrons were enticed to the concession stands with film clips of the gastronomic treats like hot dogs, barbeque sandwiches and corn on the cob. 

There were six major drive-in theaters in Austin during the golden age of drive-ins in the 50s and early 60s.  

Joseph's Drive-In opened in 1940 on “the Dallas Highway,” now best known as North Lamar Boulevard. The name was changed to the North Austin Drive-In in 1947. That was also the year that the Chief Drive-in opened at North Lamar near Justin Lane. Other drive-ins that opened then included the Montopolis, the South Austin Drive-in, the Del Wood and the Longhorn.


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In 1950, the Burnet Drive-In opened on Burnet Road. Now it’s the home of Burnet Self-Storage. Where hundreds of cars once parked to watch movies is now row after row of self-storage units. But the old marquee is still there and the owner of the storage company has taken care of it.

“Ten years ago, I pulled up on the side of the road and I saw the Burnet storage unit with the sign looking like a drive-in sign,” Austin drive-in movie theater buff Josh Frank said. “I could imagine this vast, once vast drive-in, now hundreds of storage units, and, you know, I'm sitting there and it was inspiring and it was kind of special and sweet and having such a love for Austin and growing up here and always having wanted to be a real part of like what makes Austin, Austin, so I had an idea.” 

Frank’s idea was to start his own drive-in theater in Austin. Today, he runs the Blue Starlite Theater chain, popular among movie lovers who missed out on the good old days. 

Across the country, small drive-in theaters have been popping up, now nearly 400 of them coast to coast. As they say: Sooner or later, everything old is new again.


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