Kahului Drive-In

310 W. Kaahumanu Avenue,
Kahului, HI 96732

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Kahului Drive-In

Maui Amusement Company’s Drive‐In Theater in Kahului. Hawaii’s second drive‐in theater venture (the first was the Honolulu Drive-In, Honolulu which has its own page on Cinema Treasures) opened on the island of Maui in 1955. Maui’s first drive‐in theater was developed by the island’s leading theater chain Maui Amusement Company, owned by M.G. Paschoal and H.B. Weller. The company had established itself in the theater business on Maui during the 1920’s and by the time of the planned drive‐in opening, the company owned thirteen theaters on the Valley Isle.

Sited on land off of Kaahumanu Avenue behind the Maui Vocational (Technical)l School, the ten‐ acre theater featured a 60‐foot high tower with a screen measuring 40 feet x 80 feet and could accommodate up to 440 automobiles. The theater opened on May 6, 1955, showing the 1953 release “Beneath the 12‐Mile Reef” starring Robert Wagner, Terry Moore and Gilbert Roland. Although the technology had been introduced two years earlier, the movie had the distinction of being the third CinemaScope movie ever made. The use of CinemaScope, an anamorphic lens that allowed movie producers to shoot in a wider aspect ratio than before, marked the beginning of today’s modern format for both photography and cinematography. With the new, wide‐screen CinemaScope technology, theaters hoped to obtain a competitive edge over their highly successful competitor, the television.

One of the first theaters in Hawaii equipped with this new projection equipment and wider screen, the Kahului Drive‐In showcased the theater’s new technological capabilities on opening night. The first two Cinemascope movies produced were “The Robe” and “How to Marry a Millionaire.” The Drive‐In at Kahului was the fourth theater (and the first drive‐in) in the territory to feature Cinemascope.

Despite being at the forefront of movie technology, the Kahului Drive‐In had a short life, lasting a little over a dozen years before eventually shuttering on December 15, 1967. Like its Honolulu counterpart, business closure was not the result of poor attendance, but was rather due to the prime location of the theater and desire or necessity for development. The State of Hawaii acquired the land occupied by the Kahului Drive‐In for incorporation into the new 57.3‐acre Maui Community College campus. Ernest Paschoal, general manager of Maui Amusement Company, had initially hoped to construct a new drive‐in on another parcel of land. However, compensation received from the State for the transaction was insufficient to warrant such an investment, and Paschoal noted that “during the last few years, [the company] has been feeling the competition of television", with the drive‐in making most of its money during the summer months when students were out of school. With the closing of the drive‐in, Maui Amusement’s theater holdings dwindled from a high of fourteen at the drive‐in’s inception to only one indoor theater operation, the Iao.

Unlike many communities on the mainland, Maui residents viewed the drive‐in as a positive contribution to their community and despaired of the loss of this entertainment venue. High school students at both Maui and Baldwin high schools circulated petitions asking Maui Amusement to open a new drive‐in, as it was one of the few recreational activities available to young people on Maui. The local newspaper Maui News also ran an editorial titled “The End in Sight” in which it claimed, Maui needs the drive‐in. Attendance at movies is so low that the indoor theaters need much maintenance and are far from satisfactory for the patrons. So, if Maui is to see modern movies under reasonable conditions, the drive‐in is needed. The drive‐in is a natural stopping place for young people especially during school vacations, and it is needed for this reason, too. The Maui Amusement Company’s inability to construct another drive‐in at today’s costs and with today’s volume of business is completely understandable, but this does not lessen the loss of the theater to Maui… . What the answer is to the ultimate destruction of the theater is hard to say. Maui needs it, but the economic facts of life won’t support it. Perhaps a community corporation could be arranged to move it to another location.

The ensuing years witnessed several efforts by local residents to open a new drive‐in. The Maui Boy Scouts and the Maui Hi‐Y Council urged the County Board of Supervisors to consider acquiring land and constructing and maintaining a drive‐in as part of the work overseen by the county’s Parks and Playgrounds department. The Hi‐Y Council stated, “The loss of this once major source of weekend activity for many high‐schoolers is, as we perceive it, being felt among our community’s youth", and the Boy Scouts likewise considered the need for a drive‐in to be “acute and can only be appreciated fully if one is a teenager like us". In 1969, the Citizen’s Committee for the Drive‐In Theatre on Maui, headed by Mrs. John Farren, formed to encourage private developers to find a means to open a new drive‐in. By April of that year a hui had been formed with James J. Emerson and Jack Vail at its head to analyze the feasibility of such an undertaking. Plans moved forward for the new venture and the Valley Drive‐In Theater, Inc., was formed. A site was proposed in Waikapu, adjacent to the intersection of Waiko Road and the new Wailuku By‐Pass Highway. The proposal received approval by the County Planning Commission and was forwarded to the State Land Use Commission, which also approved the proposal in 1970, but with conditions that included the construction of a mile‐and‐a‐half access road from Waikapu to the theater site. Development of the theater awaited completion of the new by‐pass highway. In 1973, the County Planning Commission again approved the proposed theater and golf driving range complex, but stipulated further conditions that now included costly improvements such as water lines, installation of a private sewer system, and installation of a traffic light at Waiko Road. Following this decision, discussions concerning the construction of a drive‐in theater on Maui sank into oblivion.

No drive‐ins successfully established themselves on any of the remaining neighbor islands; instead, the drive‐in scene confined itself to suburban Oahu with its rapidly expanding population.

However, in 2003 a new drive-in located at the same address as the Kahului Drive-In was opened in 2003 in the campus grounds of the Maui Community College. Named Maui Drive-In, it has its own page on Cinema Treasures.

Contributed by Sarah Boucher
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