FARGO — Anyone born before 1975 probably has memories of drive-in movies, whether it's going to watch "The Love Bug" in your footie pajamas or having that first romantic date in the '50s to watch Tab Hunter's latest film.
Thursday, June 6, is National Drive-In Movie Day, but Saturday, June 8, also marks the 70th anniversary of the first drive-in theater in Fargo.
The Star Lite Drive-In opened June 8, 1949, and was located on 19th Avenue North and North University Drive, right across the street from the Fargodome and where North Dakota State College of Science's Fargo campus is now located.
An ad placed that day in The Forum read, "You Will Thrill at the Drive-in Movies. Come as You Are in Your Car!" The double feature for the evening was "Pennies from Heaven," starring Bing Crosby, and "Down to Earth," starring Rita Hayworth.
The Star Lite was built 16 years after the nation's first drive-in was built in Camden, N.J., by Richard Hollingshead. In fact, it's believed Hollingshead's theater was the first drive-in anything, including drive-thru restaurants, dry cleaners and banks. Hollingshead’s drive-in opened June 6, 1933 (which is why National Drive-In Movie Day is now celebrated each June 6).
According to National Day Calendar, "At this first drive-in theater, the screen was 40 feet by 50 feet and there were 400 car slots. The advertising slogan used was, 'The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.' An Adolphe Menjou film, 'Wife Beware,' was the first film shown."
Hollingshead's idea really caught on after World War II as cars became king. In 1952, there were 15 million more cars on the road than there were in 1946. In 1946, there were about 300 drive-in movie theaters in the United States; by 1958, there were 4,700.
Moorhead's first drive-in movie theater, the Moon Lite, was built in the boom years of the '50s. According to Forum archives, it opened in 1953 on U.S. Highway 75 (or Eighth Street South) on 39th Avenue South near Riverview Estates Park. However, it was only in operation for a few months before a devastating windstorm toppled the screen. It reopened in 1956.
Drive-in theaters remained popular throughout the 1960s and '70s, but fell on hard times by the early '80s with the increasing popularity of VCRs and movie rental businesses. The Star Lite closed in July 1981. While the Moon Lite remained open in the early '80s, suburban south Moorhead was starting to expand into view of the theater's screen, adding to the difficulties faced by the business.
In 1983, Rick Solarski from the Cinema Entertainment Corp., which ran the Moon Lite, told The Forum, "Some people in the neighborhood were upset last summer because they thought the R-rated movies being shown were too explicit."
He also said "rowdy teens and young adults" were becoming a problem, particularly on "buck nights."
"At $1 a car, the kids weren't always coming to watch the show — some of them just came to party," Solarski said.
Moon Lite eventually closed in 1988.
Other holidays this week
- Monday, June 3: Chocolate Macaroons Day
- Tuesday, June 4: Cheese Day
- Wednesday, June 5: Running Day
- Thursday, June 6: Higher Education Day
- Friday, June 7: VCR Day
- Saturday, June 8: Upsy Daisy Day
- Sunday, June 9: Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Day