South Salem Drive-In

365 Lancaster Drive SE,
Salem, OR 97317

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Previously operated by: United Theatres

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South Salem Drive-In

The South Salem Drive-In was opened around 1955 with a capacity for 400 cars. It was operated by William R. Forman & Ted Gamble, who had been joined by United Theatres. It was closed when it was destroyed by fire in 1964. It was rebuilt and eventually became a 4-screen theatre.

The Regal Santiam Stadium 11 were built on the site and opened February 5, 1999 (Ih has its own page on Cinema Treasures).

Contributed by Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 4 comments)

SteveFratelli on September 5, 2016 at 12:43 pm

The marquee was torn down last year after it became a safety issue. Regal Cinemas decided it was easier to tear down than spend the money to bring it up to code.

Kenmore on September 5, 2016 at 1:04 pm

From the aerials, it appears that the drive-in existed well past 1964. In fact, it was transformed from a single to a four-screen well after 1964.

MichaelKilgore on October 9, 2021 at 2:34 pm

Motion Picture Herald, March 22, 1952: “Albert and William Forman, operators of six downtown theatres in Salem, Ore., and one drive-in there, have purchased six acres of ground three miles south of Salem, and will build their second drive-in.”

50sSNIPES on March 7, 2024 at 12:35 pm

There are two South Salem Drive-Ins in its history.

The original South Salem Drive-In, located on South Commercial Street near Wiltsey Road, opened on July 15, 1953 with Carlton Heston in “Pony Express” and Jane Powell in “Small Town Girl” with no extra short subjects. It was operated by Forman Theaters and was managed by Frank Schultz. The original drive-in originally housed 450 cars and features a 40x60ft screen.

The original location closed in 1961, followed by destruction by a fire in 1964, and the removal of its original sign in February 1966, leaving the North Salem the only drive-in theater operating in Salem. The original South Salem Drive-In will have its own Cinema Treasures page soon.

It wasn’t until 1969 when W.M. Hayes, the operator for General American Theatres, announced that a newer and much larger drive-in will be built on Lancaster Drive Southeast (which is formerly nothing at site) featuring a 45x100 screen and a planned capacity of 1,140 cars. Groundbreaking occurred during late-February 1970 on almost 13 acres of an 18-acre site. During the final touches of construction, they already had enough room to expand up to 1,200 cars. So without incident, they did expand their capacity from 1,140 to 1,200 just in time before grand opening.

The newer South Salem Drive-In opened its gates on August 19, 1970 with “Beneath The Planet Of The Apes” and “One Million Years B.C.”. Some of those attendees include local then-Top 40 (now oldies) radio station KBZY-AM doing a live broadcast on opening night. It opened with 1,200 cars for the start, and according to General American vice-president William M. Hays, said that an additional 200 cars will be added in time bringing a total to 1,400 cars but unfortunately it never expanded to 1,400. Instead it left as a standalone 1,200-car single-screener.

In August 1975, Tom Moyer of Tom Moyer Theaters, who operated much of Salem’s theaters and owned the General American Theatres chain, took a major turn in Salem’s theaters. He announced the construction of the Southgate Cinema Center, a 3-screen 800-seat (400-200-200) triplex at the Southgate Shopping Center. During that same announcement, he also planned the expansion of the South Salem Drive-In by converting a single to a quad drive-in.

  • During that time, then-35-year-old Phillip Lyle Woodland was the manager of the South Salem. Unfortunately, he was once robbed the following year. On the early morning hours of July 10, 1976 at approximately 4:20 AM PT, Woodland was depositing that night’s receipts when all of the sudden, a man wearing dirty khaki pants and a blue ski parka told Woodland to drop the U.S. National Bank bag that he was about to deposit according to police. The man was also intoxicated and had a birthmark on his right cheek, who told Woodland to “get out of here” before robbing.

  • Salem’s drive-ins during the mid-1970s were under a major shakedown on movies at the time. During the late-1970s and early-1980s, the South Salem Drive-In showed mostly first-run and second-run major-studio Hollywood fare, while the North Salem Drive-In went towards the more minor-studio/low-budget exploitation and adulty fare (but the North Salem did show a bit of Hollywood fare but only in rare occasions such as “Blazing Saddles”).

The South Salem Drive-In ended its 1,200-car single-screener days after the 1977 season when GAT started remodeling the drive-in and converting it into a 900-car quad drive-in, with 225 cars in each of the four screens. When the 1978 season rolled along, it reopened back as a single-screener with the three additional screens still under finishing touches. Finally on August 9, 1978, the three additional screens opened, marking it Oregon’s first four-screen drive-in. Several years later, the South Salem Drive-In became the only drive-in theater in Salem following the closure of the North Salem Drive-In on October 24, 1982.

Last operated by Act III Theatres, the South Salem Drive-In in its final years of operation had a total of 1,040 cars (with 260 cars in each screen) and immediately continued to entertain residents until closing the curtains at the end of the 1993 season despite the theater’s stereo sound suffered severe problems for several months during the final season.

The South Salem Drive-In closed for the final time on September 12, 1993 with the following in screen order: “Hard Target” and “Jurassic Park” in Screen 1, “Father Hood” and “Needful Things” in Screen 2, “Son In Law” and “Hocus Pocus” in Screen 3, and “Sleepless in Seattle” and “In The Line Of Fire” in Screen 4.

The concession and projection buildings sustained severe damaged from a fire on May 7, 1994, which later determined to be arson. Act III announced the following month that they decided to close the theater for good to avoid any injury. And on July 17 of that same year, another fire finished off the structure.

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