Florida Drive-ins

Florida had gotten an early start as a Drive-in state .. way back in
February of 1938, hosting one of America's first drive-in theatres
(in Miami); adding a second one when the Atlantic Drive-in opened
in Jacksonville the following year. By the end of the next decade,
twenty more Drive-in cinemas would open up, and the boom was on.

And less than ten years later .. the number of Florida's Drive-ins had
multiplied   7 times over.  By 1955, there were more than 150 outdoor
theatres flourishing within the state.  As true for the majority of the
American states, the peak years for drive-in theatres in Florida were
1955-1959, after which their numbers began to decline ..  although the
descent (rate of attrition) was more gradual in Florida than elsewhere.

By the close of the next decade, Florida was still supporting about
120 drive-in theatres, and even as late as 1979, there were still 115
drive-ins in operation. Unlike most of the American states, a severe
decimation of their numbers had not occured until the late 1980's.

Presently, in contrast to the peak years, 94% of Florida's Drive-ins
have gone dark or been demolished (although it still remains as one
of the better Drive-in states in America), with 10 that are still open,
and for northerners accustomed to Drive-ins open only seasonally.

Here's the rundown on recent closings and a Directory of the Drive-ins
that remain open for you to enjoy, and which depend on your support:

  • Auburndale (Polk County) Florida
    Dale Drive-in Theatre:    DARK
    located on Berkley Road (just north of Hwy.92)

    Among the many Drive-ins abandoned by the Floyd
    Theatres chain,  is this dark shadow of her former
    self; the old marquee and screen are still standing,
    but not for long ..  if WALMART has its way with her.

  • Bartow (Polk County) Florida
    Bartow Outdoor Drive-in:   DARK
    located at 1705 Highway 17 South

  • Belle Glade (Palm Beach County) Florida
    Lakes Drive-in Theatre:   DARK
    1391 North Main Street

    photo: Dixon Hayes (1999)
 Dade City, Florida

  • Dade City (Pasco County) Florida
    Joy Lan Drive-in:  352-567-5085
    located at 16414 Highway 301

    This cozy little single-screen Drive-in with parking for
    a couple hundred cars was resurrected by the former
    president of the old Floyd theatre chain which was once
    linked to many Drive-ins in its time (1940s-70's). And,
    if price is a factor in attracting & introducing a wider
    audience to the outdoor cinema experience, they do!

    * ITEM:   Joy Lan features THE lowest admission prices for
    any American Drive-in:   on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday,
    and Sunday $2.00 for adults;   kids 9 and under are free;
    and on Thursday nites they charge by the carload: $2.00
    (closed on Monday and Tuesday). The Joy Lan is open
    throughout the year, and also operates a flea market
    'swap shop' on Saturday and Sunday at the Drive-in,
    which is less than an hour's drive north of Tampa.

  • De Land (Volusia County) Florida
    Boulevard Drive-in Theatre:    DARK
    located at 1532 South Woodland Boulevard

  • Delray Beach (Palm Beach County) Florida
    Delray Drive-in Theatre:    DARK
    located on North Federal Highway  

    photo: Norman Plant
     Thunderbird Drive-in 
 (aka: SwapShop Drive-in) 
 Fort Lauderdale, Florida

  • Fort Lauderdale (Broward County) Florida
    Thunderbird Drive-in:  954-583-7733
    located at 3121 West Sunrise Boulevard

    The old Thunderbird, which is alternately known as
    the Swap Shop Drive-in, is the largest of America's
    Drive-in theatres (and is perhaps better described
    as a Drive-in theatre complex).  Open throughout
    the year, the Thunderbird, which first opened-up
    in 1963, now has 13 screens of varying sizes with a
    correspondingly wide range of movies and format;
    some screening single features, and some doubles,
    depending on the length(s) of the particular movie;
    (and screen 9 is the original and their largest screen).
    Local vicinity FM broadcasts on various channels are
    used to deliver the movies' sountracks (no speakers).
    Admission to your choice of screens is:  adults $3.50
    and kids under 11 years of age are admitted in free.
    It's very common for Drive-ins to host a Flea Market
    swapmeet on the Dr'in lot. The Thunderbird Drive-in's
    Swap Shop is an uncommon flea market, and possibly
    the world's largest (although we've heard rumors that
    California might have an outdoor flea market which is
    even bigger than this one). In any event, Ft.Lauderdale
    would still have the honor of hosting the world's largest
    flea circus .. that's right, kids, on top of everything else is
    the BIGtop .. the Thunderbird has its very own complete
    full time circus 6 days a week (a no-show on Tuesdays);
    admission to the flea market is free; admission to the
    circus is $2 per seat. It's all located 1 mile west of I-95.

    * ITEM:   The Thunderbird's opening nite was very eerily
    overshadowed (and thereafter, would be indelibly etched
    in local memory)   by the thunderbolt which hit that day --
    President Kennedy's assasination, November 22nd, 1963.

     Northside Drive-in 
 Fort Myers, Florida

  • Fort Myers (Lee County) Florida
    Northside Drive-in:  941-995-2254
    located at 2521 North Tamiami Trail

    Twin-screen Drive-in showing double features nitely.
    Movie audio provided with FM (102.1) radio broadcast.
    Admission: $3.50 adults; kids age 9 and under are free.
    Flea Market on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday.

  • Holiday (Pinellas County) Florida
    see:  Tarpon Springs

  • Jacksonville (Duval County) Florida
    Playtime Triple Family Drive-In:  904-771-2300
    located at 6300 Blanding Boulevard

    When it's sundown, it's PlayTime ..  and that means:
    double features on each of three screens, on 7 nites
    of the week, year-round.  Admission: Fri/Sat $3.50 per
    person for all ages 10&up; under age 9 free w/parent;
    Sunday - Thursday it's:   $7/carload for all passengers.
    FleaMkt swapmeet held here Wed,Fri,Sat,Sun: 6am-2pm.

    photo: Georg Balandran
 Lakeland, Florida

  • Lakeland (Polk County) Florida
    Silver Moon Drive-in:  863-682-0849
    located at 4100 Route 92 W (New Tampa Hwy)

    In continuous operation since 1948, the Silver Moon
    is open throughout the year, with 2 screens, showing
    double features, and frequently a repeat screening
    of the main feature after midnite on weekends. If
    planning to attend on a Friday or a Saturday nite,
    you really do need to get there early .. in order to
    avoid being turned-away; fills-up quickly on wknds.
    Hometown fav at the snackbar is their large pizza
    special ($5.50).   Admission: adults $3 per person;
    kids under 9 free; Thursday nites: $3 per carload.
    Flea Market on Saturday & Sunday: 6AM-12:30PM.

    photo: Marty Lineen (1993)
     Lake Worth ('Trail') Drive-in 
 Lake Worth, Florida

  • Lake Worth (Palm Beach County) Florida
    Lake Worth Drive-in:  561-965-4518
    located at 3438 Lake Worth Road

    The last outdoor cinema in Palm Beach County --
    (you may remember it as the Trail Drive-in), opened
    in 1967, a solo screen playing to more than 400 cars.
    Currently screening one feature nitely, with FM audio.
    Admission: $5 for adults (and kids over the age of 12).
    A FleaMarket swapshop is held here 3 days a week:
    on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, from 6AM.

  • Naples (Collier County) Florida
    Naples Drive-in:  941-774-6661
    located on East Davis Boulevard (x15 off I-75)

    The Naples is Florida's first true 'resurrection' ..
    to be noted in the re naissance du cinema ouvert
    evidenced across America for the past few years.
    The Naples twin first opened in 1974 with a run of
    almost a dozen roller coaster years, during which
    time the original owner went through series of
    different entertainment formats and promotional
    ploys (and films, from B movies to X flix) before
    finally pulling the plug on it.  Fortunately, it was
    acquired and revived by a new owner in 1994,
    who cares about the Drive-in, has a better
    feel for the venue, and a natural instinct for
    interacting with and catering to his patrons.
    The new Naples is lit-up seven nites a week
    throughout the year, and is usually screening
    double features on your choice of two screens.
    Admission: $3.50 per person. There is also a
    flea market and a farmer's market (774-2900)
    held on Saturdays & Sundays from 7AM-3PM.

  • Ocala (Marion County) Florida
    Ocala Drive-in:   352-629-1325   RE-OPENED!
    located at 4850 South Pine Avenue (Route 441)

    The Ocala had operated continuously since opening in
    1948, and had been managed by the same family since
    1969 .. until 2002, as the nearest  operating Drive-in for
    the greater Orlando area, and also, the last fully classic
    Florida Drive-in, which still provided movie audio as they
    had for more than fifty years, with the traditional window
    speakers. The old solo screen had been lit year round, but
    in recent years on weekends only; going dark with a last
    picture show on Sunday, the 20th of October, Season 2002
    (with a double-feature screening of Lilo and Stitch, followed
    by Bad Company).   The story has a happy ending however..
    as of February, 2003, The old solo screen with a capacity for
    up to 300 cars has been re-lit, with noticeable improvements:
    It will be open every nite of the week in Season 2003 with a
    double feature; with movie audio now broadcast via FM radio.
    Admission:   $4 for adults; ages 9 and under are admitted free.
    There is also a flea mkt here Wed, Fri, Sat and Sun (7am-3pm).

    from Orlando: follow Route 441 all the way out, or
    I-75 to the Hwy.200 exit; right onto 17th Street, and
    right again onto Route 441, and continue for 3½ miles.

  • Orlando (Orange County) Florida
    Ri-Mar Drive-in:    GONE
    formerly located on Clarcona Ocoee Road
    in the Lockhart district of greater Orlando

    This former "solo" (single-screen) used to park 300 cars ..
    but has been dark since the 1998 fire that took the screen.
    For those who miss the old Ri-Mar, the nearest operating
    Ozoners in central Florida would be: the Ocala, to the
    northwest, up in Marion County, and also Lakeland's
    Silver Moon (southwest), in Hillsborough County.

    photo: Georg Balandran
 Pinellas Park, Florida

  • Pinellas Park (Pinellas County) Florida
    Drive-in Cinema:    GONE
    formerly located at 8001 Highway 19 North

    The boom years for the American Drive-in that followed
    the end of the Second World War, peaking in the late 50's
    heyday, gave rise not only to thousands of outdoor cinemas,
    but also many variations on the theme. In spite of its generic
    and straightforward name, St. Petersburg's Drive-in Cinema,
    was undoubtedly one of the most unusual ever built. Among
    other things, its 60' wide screen tower had a very elaborate

    © Drive-in Concepts
     The glass-enclosed stage of 
 Pinellas Park, Florida

    glass-enclosed showcase stage built into it (impervious
    to weather and insects for the performers), and the stage
    itself, was designed to revolve for the performers to enter
    and exit, and to enable seamless set & costume changes.
    Built in 1951, originally as the Garden Auto Drive-in, it was
    then transformed into the inventive Drive-in Cinema as the
    brainchild of a forward-thinking minister in Michigan who'd
    conceived of it as a novel venue for Christian-oriented films
    and shows and as the focalpoint of a non-denominational
    ministry. After having operated under the guidance of its
    imaginative founder for five decades consecutively, the
    great screen remained lit up until the first month of the
    new millenium. Flash forward: if ever you find yourself
    passing a Wallmart in Pinellas Park, and suddenly a
    distinct sensation of  Deja Vu  ripples through you ..
    maybe you were there before, when it was a Drive-in.

  • Ruskin (Hillsborough County) Florida
    Ruskin Drive-in Theatre:  813-645-1455
    located at 5011 Highway 41 North

    It's common to see grandparents returning to this
    very traditional Drive-in with their grandchildren ..
    and regulars who come early to make sure they get
    their usual spot in front of the 60' wide screen which
    has remained lit since 1952. The Ruskin was one of
    the very first Drive-ins to install a local vicinity radio
    broadcast system to deliver the movie soundtrack -
    AM (1530) back in 1971, and has since added an FM
    channel (89.3), but makes a point of also maintaing
    the traditional window speakers as a basic policy:
    "it just wouldnt be a Drive-in without the speakers."
    The Ruskin is open throughout the year, screening
    double features, and is located between Brandon
    and Tampa up north, and Bradenton to the south
    (3 miles off of I-75). Admission: Thursday-Sunday
    $4 for adults; kids aged 9 & under admitted free;
    Monday-Wednesday special: $5 by the carload.

  • Sanford (Seminole County) Florida
    Movieland Drive-in:    DARK
    formerly located on Highway 17

    photo: Georg Balandran
     28th STREET DRIVE-IN   
 St. Petersburg, Florida

  • St. Petersburg (Pinellas County) Florida
    28th Street Drive-in Theatre:     DARK
    located at 4990 28th Street North

    We regret to report that this colorful and popular Drive-in
    which opened-up in 1950 and which had also been so nicely
    maintained in its later years, has now seen its last season;
    50yrs seems to have been the limit ..  for both of St. Pete's
    remaining Drive-ins ..  continued thinning of the Ozoner layer
    (FTR:  the lights went out over St.Pete on Friday, June 30th 2K).
    The Drive-in was not the owner of the land it resided on, and
    at the expiration of its most-recent lease arrangement, the
    landowners let it go to a high-bidder (we heard $1,520,000);
    the Pinellas County School Board, which actually hasn't any
    immediate plans for the property, but determined that it'd
    be better to have the nearly 15 acres and not need it, than
    to need it at somepoint down the road and not have it ..
    we'll file that one under:  "your Tax Dollars at work!"

    photo: Georg Balandran
 Tampa, Florida

  • Tampa (Hillsborough County) Florida
    Fun Lan Drive-in:  813-234-2311
    located at 2302 E. Hillsborough Avenue @ 22nd St.

    A lot of people have the idea that   Florida   is where you go
    to retire .. an idea that had never occured to Chuck - now in
    his 70's, who was working here on January 10th, 1950 (Day1),
    and is still putting his time in. And there have been a lot of
    changes over the years .. but the Fun-Lan, having been a
    fixture of the Tampa nitescene for the last half of the last
    Century, has also made it over The Great Divide .. which
    most of the classic American Drive-ins would never cross,
    into the new Millenium. And in this first season of the new
    Millenium, the Fun-Lan is alive and kickin; and take that
    to mean:  you should also make a point of arriving here
    early if you plan to attend on weekends. The Fun-Lan is
    open 7 nites throughout the year, screening your choice
    of 3 sets of double features on each of its three screens.
    It has both traditional speakers and a local FM broadcast
    for the movies' soundtrack. In its heyday, the Fun-Lan had
    a really awesome playground for the wee folk (maybe you
    recall that mini-train .. with hundreds of feet of train track!).
    Where the kiddie attractions once were, they now stage a
    popular Flea Market Wednesday - Sunday  (813-237-0886).
    Admission to the old picture show is:  $3.50 for adults, and
    kids under 10 are admitted free; the Thursday nite special:
    Carload Nite ($3.50 per car). They're just a mile east of 275.

  • Tarpon Springs (Pinellas County) Florida
    Midway Drive-in Theatre:    DARK
    located at 1315 Route 19 North

  • West Palm Beach (Palm Beach County) Florida
    Beach Drive-in Theatre:   561-844-0330
    located at 1140 Old Dixie Highway (Riviera Beach)

    * Fade to Black (as far as the Picture Show goes);
    flea market swapmeet held on the lot here, wknds.

     Star-Lite Drive in 
 Winter Garden, Florida

  • Winter Garden (Orange County) Florida
    Star-Lite Drive-in Theatre:    GONE
    formerly located at 1171 East Plant Street

  • Winter Haven (Polk County) Florida
    Haven Dale Drive-in Theatre:    DARK
    located on Havendale Boulevard NW

    * The 200-car lot is still there, but the old screen has been
    torn-down, and now only the old concession area remains.

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