What a dump! Kidhood drive-in movie theater exposed by day

Pittsburgh’s South Park Drive-In, 1970

Really? That mound of dirt on the uphill side of a crud Western Pennsylvania road? That was it? The pleasure dome we entered, exalted, five of us in a red Chevy station wagon? The car’s “back-back” piled with pillows and blankets? My father, captain of the ship, adroitly steering to a “just-so” spot? My mother breaking out the food in a preemptive strike to keep the family far from the snack bar?

You had to be strong to stave off snack-bar propaganda. I used to find these “countdown clocks” absolutely nerve-wracking!!!

The South Park Drive-In was located at 5191 Library Road (Route 88) in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, just before the entrance to Pittsburgh’s South Park. Shown above circa 1970, it opened on August 27, 1940 and was the first drive-in theatre in Allegheny County. The open air venue could accommodate up to 400 cars.

Opening night movie
South Park Drive-In Theatre

It opened in 1940. That’s just unbelievable. Did families have cars then? The movie was “The Housekeeper’s Daughter.” Sounds like porn!

When Europeans were hunkering to resist German hegemony on the continent, Americans, in splendid isolation, were repairing to the drive-in. While China was marching toward a Communist Revolution, American kids were doing the same, only making the ‘Long Kid March’ to the bathroom utterly convinced they’d find the family car, in the dark, upon return. Then getting hopelessly lost. Memories of those “endless summer” family outings and of trying, trying so hard, to stay awake. Watching movies through windshield wipers in pouring rain. And through fog. What’s a little rain when you have to get your money’s worth? Memories of lightening bugs: You’d catch them in jars — then torture them. The sonic misery of chintzy speakers clipped to the car window. They turned the human voice into scratchy gibberish — rendering storyline out of reach. Even with the window only slightly ajar, you’d freeze at night, while being bit by mosquitoes. Sometimes you had to run the heater. In my memory, I must admit, my kid-hood drive-in was somewhat — only slightly — more glamorous than this …What a dump!

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