Orlando Drive-In

1001 S. Orange Blossom Trail,
Orlando, FL 32805

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Dixie Drive-In Theatres

Previous Names: Drive-In

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Orlando Drive-In

One of Orlando, Florida’s very early drive-ins was the Drive-In. It was the second airer to be built in the state of Florida by Harris Robinson dba Dixie Drive-In Theatres of Atlanta, Georgia. Robinson’s first drive-in was the Atlantic/Jacksonville Drive-In, Jacksonville, FL, which opened on December 6, 1939. The Drive-In Theatre opened on February 7, 1940, screening the 1938 romantic comedy “Vivacious Lady”, featuring Ginger Rogers and James Stewart along with a Mickey Mouse cartoon and a sports reel. The first manager was C.H. Bradbury. The screen size was 40 ft. X 32 ft. with in-a-car speakers. Attendants assisted moviegoers with purchasing tickets, served soft drinks car-side, and cleaned patrons’ windshields to give them a crystal-clear view. Car capacity was 300 cars and over the years theatre management wanted to expand the parking lot and ramps but could not purchase land to do it.

It was reported that on opening night the drive-in attracted 3,000 movie goers, which sounds dubious. In 1942, during World War II, the drive-in started selling Defense Stamps to help finance the war effort. In many cases, collections of war savings stamps could be redeemed for Treasury Certificates or War Bonds. The drive-in advertised if you prefer to spend the blackout at the drive-in, you make sure your home is completely black-out before attending the drive-in. During the black-out period the movie was interrupted and replaced by a scheduled program of WLOF though the drive-in speakers. At the conclusion of the blackout the movie was resumed. Blackouts during World War II were intended to minimize outdoor light, especially upwardly directed light. The idea was to prevent enemy aircraft from identifying targets by sight. Street lights were turned off, and all windows of homes and businesses were covered.

Since 1946, Joe Lipson and Allen F. Horton were the drive-in managers. In 1949, Lipson moved to the new Winter Park Drive-In. In 1955, Horton described the drive-in during his early days as being a do-it-yourself affair. The speakers were housed in plywood boxes, and the projection equipment was intended for an indoor theatre and modified to work outdoors. The concession stand menu was limited to popcorn, chewing gum, candy and cold drinks.

The Drive-In was renamed to the Orlando Drive-In Theatre on October 5, 1948. On May 10, 1953, the drive-in also began hosting church services, an idea borrowed from the Winter Park Drive-In. Every Sunday morning, Dr. Fred E. Stinson, minister at the Christ Methodist Church in Orlando, would hold services for worshipers listening in their cars. On December 7, 1954, a 70 ft. X 37 ft. CinemaScope screen was installed.

In the 1970’s the Dixie Drive-In Theatres Chain was sold. I believe a new company was formed to operate the Orlando Drive-In, it was Frank M. Robinson dba was Orlando Drive-In Theatre Inc. I think he was related to Harris Robinson who opened up the drive-in 1940. The last movies to be screened at the Orlando Drive-In were Richard Rowntree in “Killpoint” and “Policewoman” on June 17, 1984 and it was closed for good. It was noted that the success of the Orlando Drive-In the early years was that it was opened and operated as a family drive-in. There is a Dollar General Store, 7-Eleven, and a big parking lot used by the City of Orlando, FL on the site now.

Contributed by Randy L Studer, Ken Roe
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