Monday, July 22, 2013

An Abandoned Rural Drive-In Theater

We stumbled upon this abandoned drive-in in the backwoods of rural Indiana.  Only the main building consisting of a snack bar, restroom and projection room remained, but to our surprise it was full of interesting artifacts from an age of Americana long gone.  In this post we'll first take a brief look at the rise and fall of America's drive-in theaters, and then check out what we found inside this particular facility.  Stay tuned and read on.

Photo credit: Life Magazine
The drive-in prospered for just over a couple decades as one of America's favorite forms of entertainment.  However, finding itself now in the twenty first century, it has spent almost twice that amount of time in decline.  Starting in the 1970s and continuing into the 1980s the drive-in started to decline with the increasing popularity of in home entertainment such as cable television and VCRs.  Now in the age of in demand entertainment only a few hundred drive-ins survive in the entire country, and while many continue to struggle and close their doors, others have manage to create a niche in the nostalgia market.  However, as we shall see, this particular establishment was not so lucky.

Approaching the side of the building we entered through this red door into the snack bar.
Not too much of the snack bar was left.  The roof was removed or collapsed, but some of the metallic counter tops were still intact.
Even in the snack bar we managed to find some loose 35mm film left out and exposed to the elements.
Moving further into the building we found evidence that the snack bar also shared the room with a video rental space.
VHS tapes littered the floor.  With the home entertainment market overtaking older forms of entertainment, like drive-ins, getting in on the then booming video rental business may have seemed like a smart move.
One of the more interesting titles available for rental.  It was likely not a Hollywood Blockbuster.

An old CO2 tank for a Pepsi soda fountain.
There was also an interesting selection of books in decent condition.  This being a high school civics textbook.

An old copy of Thunderball, the James Bond novel.

The flaking paint on the ceiling give the effect of small stalactites forming.

A final shot of the video rental section of the building.  You would be hard pressed to find a room in more disarray.

From the video rental section of the building we exited and took a look at another entrance.

It led to the restroom.  I guess there had to be one somewhere.

I'm not sure what this hallway next to the bathroom stall would have been.  No evidence of a urinal or a sink.
We headed back into the larger section of the building and found the projection room.  These two stands would have held the projectors with their lenses pointing out of the holes in the wall onto the now non-existent screen.

While the projectors are no longer on their stands we found parts of them sitting close by.

A shot of the make and model of the projector lamps.  

Here's an example of a working set up of projectors similar to what we found in the abandoned building.  It was common for even single screen theaters to have two projectors.
The main work bench-table in the room was cluttered with all kinds of miscellaneous junk.

One noticeable piece found on the table was this old canister holding 35mm film still spilling out the top.

An old file system found in the corner of the projector room.

It appears the store's stock in this cabinet was removed.  Could it have been more important than the projectors?

The more recently abandoned Kenwood Drive-In in Louisville, KY.  Click here to check out the gallery from that trip.


  1. Those lamp houses were carbon-arc lamps, they oddly enough didn't have bulbs inside them, instead they had two small carbon rods mounted on movable brackets, and when a high intensity current was passed through them it would create a spark across the rods which would give off the light.

    On the table to the left of the lamp houses looks like a Century projection head, this would be the actual projector which the film would pass through and the lens would be connected, It would mount on top of another box called the sound head which contained the optical sound reader and the motor which ran everything.

    The heavy film canister with the little rollers and the pulley on the side, and this is just speculation, looks like it was for nitrate film, which was the earliest form of film and was highly flammable. It's also self-oxidizing so it's extremely hard to put out once it catches (it can even burn violently while completely underwater). This led to many destructive theater fires as well as many states requiring projectionists to have a license, even to this day although Nitrate was replaced with non-flammable Acetate "safety film" in the 1930s.

  2. Very interesting. Did they continue making nitrate film for some reason even after the introduction of the safety film? I don't think we found anything else that dated as far back as the 1930s.

  3. is there a address