End of Another Era

Photo scanned from Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier

Hillcrest Drive-in
located at 9614 University Avenue
Cedar Falls (Black Hawk County) Iowa

Screening triple-features for same admission
on Fri/Sat nites; double-features on other nites;
maintains traditional speakers plus AM/FM sound.

Cars lined up a mile plus long, filled with kids, coolers, blankets and lawn chairs. Beside us we see a man walking within the cars and we wonder what is going on with him, then we found out soon enough. As we rolled up our windows to keep out the horrible exhaust fumes which were coming our way, we look to see a 39 hearst beside us. Now we found out why that man was walking within the cars! As the lady drove the car, he needed to be there to pop the hood when it stalled! Slowly but surely we progressed to find our select spot.

The car parked, the fun is about to begin. Next we unpacked the lawn chairs and the coolers, then we round up all the snacks which we brought with us. And good that we did because the snack bar ran out of food very early into the night...before the first show there wasn't a french fry to be found. All around you could see families and friends who have gathered to enjoy the evening. You could see memories flooding from every nook and corner of the lot.

The last night of the Hillcrest Drive-in was a great one which brought back a whole flood of memories. Watching the families all gathered and sharing a night together was a wonderful sight that will be gone forever now. As my grandsons impatiently waited for the show to begin, and asked why they were showing the Three Stooges, it allowed me time to reminisce with them and to share my drive-in experiences with them.

And now progress replaces another family shared activity in our community.

Hillcrest Drive-in Theatre closes
after 25 years in the Cedar Valley

Courier Staff Writer


The Hillcrest Drive-In Theatre will soon drive off into the sunset -- forever.

The theater, one of just four left in Iowa, will close after its showings Sunday.

According to the theater owners, they are finalizing a deal to sell it to a developer, who has plans to tear it down and build apartments or condominiums on the site.

The Hillcrest Drive-In was built in 1975, replacing another drive-in theater located just west of the University of Northern Iowa.

Roger Hanson, director of operations for Central States Theatres, owner of the Hillcrest, said the theater hadn't been on the market.

"Someone approached us. We were not actively trying to sell it," Hanson said.

So the countdown is on for the end of the theater. This week the theater will show "Bless the Child" and "The Perfect Storm." This weekend, for the final run at the theater, there will be a triple header of "Dinosaur," "Gone in 60 Seconds" and "Shanghai Noon."

The theater will surely be missed.

When a group of high school students heard the news, they immediately began making plans to go see one of the last showings.

"We've got to go there Friday," said Lance LaRue, 16.

A friend, Alicia Eagles, 18, loves to go to the drive-in.

"It's so cheap, $6 for three movies," she said. "It's such a classic place to go. It keeps the past alive. It's such a great atmosphere."

Another of the group, Rebekah Johansen, 16, had never made it to a drive-in show. She hoped to find her way there before the last night.

Kristine Lindell, 18, said it cuts down the entertainment options, and something that was unique in Cedar Falls.

"It's nice to have a different type of place to go," Lindell said. "They had a great snack bar."

While the theatergoers hate to see it close, the theater owners aren't that excited either.

"I hate to see this go. It's a piece of Americana that won't be replaced," Hanson said.

Hanson said that to his knowledge, the Cedar Falls closing will leave only three drive-in theaters remaining in operation in Iowa.

Cedar Falls' theater was also somewhat unique in that it tended to show movies that were still first run, closer to their openings than some other drive-ins.

Experts say between 4,000 and 5,000 outdoor theaters existed in the United States in the late 1950s, the heyday of the drive-in movies. Today, estimates are closer to 600 across the country.

The sale of the Hillcrest theater property is not yet complete. Central States and the developer have set Sept. 20 as the closing date



Some History of the Drive-In

Richard M Hollingshead, Jr was a man in his 30's with a dream. To create a place where families could go and watch a movie from their car, not have to worry about parking troubles. No need for babysitters, you could sit back and relax. He began his experiments in the driveway of his own home in New Jersey using a Kodak projector mounted on the hood of his car. Projecting the image onto a screen nailed to the trees in his back yard. Thus began the new era of family movie viewing in the open air.

He had to work on how sound would be used and the biggest was how a car behind the other was going to be able to see with the car in front of it. Thus became the rolling drives which we see today. And finally became the first Patent for the Drive-In Theater.United States Patent 1,909,537

On May 16, 1933 he get a patent # of 1,909,537 the first Drive-In Theater patent ever. Later in May of 1950 the patent was declared invalid by the Delaware District Court.

The First Drive-In Theater 1933

May 19, 1933 Richard H., Willie Warren Smith, Edward Ellis and Oliver Willets, begin to build the first official drive-in. Taking three weeks and $30,000, the dream finally came true. On June 6, 1933, on Crescent Boulevard, Camden New Jersey the "Drive-In Theatre" was officially opened. The cost was 25 cents for the car, 25 cents per person and no car to pay more than $1.00 total.