53 Drive-In

2050 N. Hicks Road,
Palatine, IL 60074

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Schoenstadt

Previous Names: 53 Outdoor Theatre

Nearby Theaters

53 Drive-In Entrance

One of the more popular of the suburban Chicago-area drive-in theaters, the 53 Outdoor Theatre originally opened on April 29, 1960 with a single screen and a capacity from 765 cars. Opening movies were Van Johnson in “Subway in the Sky” & Yul Brynner in “Solomon and Sheba”. It was located near Route 12 and Route 53 in the northwestern suburb of Palatine.

In the mid-1970’s, two more screens were added to the 53 Drive-In. Until the 1980’s, the 53 Drive-In played everything from art movies to Z-grade horror movies to adult films. During its last few years in operation, the 53 Drive-In played mainly mainstream commercial Hollywood fare.

It closed at the end of the 1986 season and was demolished around 1989/1990 to make way for a UPS shipping facility.

Contributed by Bryan Krefft

Recent comments (view all 20 comments)

galechicago on June 27, 2011 at 8:41 pm

The 53 Drive-in was at Hicks Road (Old Route 53) just south of Route 12, which is Rand Road (Northwest Highway is Route 14).

My friends and I saw Purple Rain at the 53 Drive-in. What a hoot, a carload of girls in a Firebird watching Prince. Can you imagine? Tinny little drive-in speaker hanging on the window for a music concert movie! We had big hair, big shoulder pads, and thought we were So Cool.

rivest266 on June 23, 2012 at 2:22 pm

This opened on April 29th, 1960. I uploaded an aerial and grand opening ad here.

KilrTomato on July 20, 2012 at 10:51 am

Wow….just found this site and had to post. I am 49 now and grew up in Palatine. I remember going there with my parents and younger sister as a kid and the playground under the big screen. Went there with friends and dates in high school and we drank beer, acted stupid etc. While in college, I was an employee there for three Summers (1981-1983) and at one time or another worked all areas of the theater. I helped maintain the speakers and sound systems, helped with security, worked in concessions, did grounds keeping, box office cahier, changed the marquee with the new movies at the front entrance and ended up the latter part of my last Summer as an Asst. Manager. Poppy Kohlberg was the adult offspring (in her early 40s at the time) of the owner/founder, who I never did meet. Poppy ran and managed the theater in the 80s and her brother ran the projectors. I met and worked with a lot of interesting people who I have long since lost touch with.

Also, there is a group on Face Book for the 53 Drive In which can easily be found with a FB search. I commented there about four or five months ago, but not much activity. Also, the picture on the FB site could be the only known surviving picture of the place. They were asking for more pics from potential contributors on the FB site, but that seems to be it. I never took any while working there and now wish I had. Kind of sad really, since it was a landmark and an icon from 1960 through 1986. Now it is a UPS shipping center. There is nothing on the location where it once stood to suggest it ever even existed. A lot of good memories though.

drm128 on August 15, 2014 at 11:27 am

My first job was at the 53 Drive-In Theatre. I would get there in late afternoon and me and a couple of the guys would walk around the grounds with big plastic trash cans and pick up the “stuff” left on the grounds from the night before. Hehehe, you can image what we found and how we learned about life! Then it was back to the snack bar and start popping the corn to put in the heat racks and we even served hot dogs and pizza, which I helped make in the small oven we had. It was a unique experience both as a job and as a customer when we went in my parents car.

PeterNorth on September 9, 2014 at 9:11 pm

I think I spent every Saturday night the summers of 1980 and 1981 at the 53 drive-in. These were some good times, The midnight adult movies were fun as they charged $1.00 per car for these shows, when you were under age you just turned your head and handed the dollar out the car window.

jwmovies on October 17, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Address should be 2050 N Hicks Rd.

jwmovies on March 22, 2019 at 7:02 pm

FYI this drive in might have been closed but it was not demolished in 1987. Two screens, all buildings and all the ramps are very visible in 1988 aerials.

davidcoppock on March 23, 2019 at 12:40 am

Opened with a cartoon(not named), “Subway in the sky”, and “Solomon and Sheba”.

MichaelKilgore on June 16, 2020 at 12:05 pm

The May 2, 1962 issue of Motion Picture Exhibitor printed a letter from the president of the Chicagoland Drive-In Theatre Association accusing the 53 Drive-In (and the nearby Starlite) of booking up to five features on a program and then skipping a reel or two of each. I have no idea whether that was ever true, and I’d never heard of that practice until I read that letter today.

50sSNIPES on March 24, 2023 at 4:01 pm

The 53 Drive-In opened its gates on April 29, 1960 with Yul Brynner in “Solomon And Sheba” and Van Johnson in “Subway In The Sky” along with an unnamed cartoon.

During most of the 53 Drive-In’s life, the 53 plays nearly everything such as X films, Z films, art films, and other random content. But right when the early-1980s rolled along, the 53 Drive-In began slowly focusing towards first-run films. It was also a site of the Swap-O-Rama Flea Market at the time, along with four other drive-ins in the Chicago Metropolitan Area.

The 53 Drive-In closed for the final time after the 1986 season, and was actually demolished in either 1989 or 1990 to make way for its current UPS facility. I can tell judging by a 1988 aerial view does show almost the entire theater still standing.

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