Published On Thu May 19 2011
By: Eric Veillette – Special to The Star
Anyone seeking to eulogize the drive-in theatre is invited to ride out to Oakville on a Saturday night to see more than 100 cars lined up to enter the 5 Drive-In, located near Highway 5 and Ninth Line.
“We have room for 1,000 cars and we fill up every weekend,” says Brian Allen of Premier Theatres, which also operates three other drive-ins in London, Barrie and Hamilton.
While not as commonplace as they once were — from the 1946 opening of Hamilton’s Skyway Drive-In until they mostly flickered out in the early 1980s — several sites in and around the GTA still offer an old-fashioned outdoor moviegoing experience.
Allen adds that many of the surviving locations were run-down, burned out and dilapidated. “We’ve tried to give them new life and save them from urban sprawl.”
Unapologetically nostalgic, Allen strives to retain the style and look of the ’50s-era drive-ins. “When people ask me who I voted for during the election, I tell them I voted for Eisenhower.”
Atmosphere on the screen is also key. New, first-run films are all preceded by a screened rendition of “O Canada” — where patrons get out of their cars and stand up; vintage “welcome to the drive-in” bumper reels; trailers for drive-in staples like The Blob; as well as classic MGM or Warner Bros. cartoons.
“This is what it was like when I was growing up, before they started putting car commercials and music videos before the film,” says Allen, who joined the family business in 1983.
Showmanship has deep roots in the Allen family. His great uncles, Jules and Jay Allen, founded the first national chain of theatres in the late 1910s. By 1923, the majority of their assets were acquired by Famous Players Canada Corp.
“They took some very big risks and built some of the biggest theatres in the country,” he says. Vestiges of the former Allen Toronto theatres remain, like the Parkdale on Queen St. W., now an antiques store, and the Bloor, now the Lee’s Palace concert venue. Only the Danforth Theatre, most recently known as the Music Hall, is still intact.
Despite the setback in the 1920s, the family stuck to show business, returning as Premier Theatres in the 1930s. In 1950, they built their first drive-in.
With so many changes in exhibition and theatres nationwide converting to digital projection, Allen isn’t too worried about the future of his outdoor business.
“As long as people are coming to the show, we’re okay. The demand is still there, and it’s still a unique experience,” he says.
Worth the drive
You can still park your wheels in front of a few working outdoor screens, including:
5 Drive-In: Operates 10 months a year, with three screens showing first-run films (current offerings include Bridesmaids, Thor and Something Borrowed). Volleyball court on site for pre-show entertainment. $5 Tuesdays and car-load flat rate of $15 every Thursday. 2332 Ninth Line, Oakville. Information at 5drivein.com.
Mustang Drive-In: Two screens showing first-run films. $5 Tuesdays and car-load flat rate of $15 every Thursday. 2551 Wilton Grove Rd., London. Information at mustangdrive-in.com.
Sunset Drive-In: Newly acquired by Premier Theatres, the three-screen site offers $5 Tuesdays and car-load flat rate of $15 every Thursday. 134 Line 4 South, Oro-Medonte (near Barrie). Information at sunsetbarrie.com.
Starlite Drive-in: Three screens showing first-run films, Starlite Drive-In offers offers $5 Tuesdays and car-load flat rate of $15 every Thursday. 59 Green Mountain Rd E, Stoney Creek, ON (in Hamilton). Information at starlitehamilton.com
Original Article Source: http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/article/994292–drive-ins-movies-on-wheels