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THE JAXSON | The drive-in theatres of Jacksonville

Published on April 16, 2024 at 5:00 pm

For 69 years, drive-in movie theaters entertained generations of Jaxsons. Today, their remnants are hard to find in the city’s modern landscape. Here is a look at 15 drive-in theaters that operated in town between 1939 and 2008, including the theater that was involved in a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on films including nudity.

During the 1920s, “outdoor movies” emerged as a popular form of summer entertainment across the country. During the Great Depression, the drive-in theater concept was patented in Camden, New Jersey, by Richard M. Hollingshead on May 16, 1933.

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On December 6, 1939, the Jacksonville Drive-In opened on Atlantic Boulevard. It was believed to be Florida’s first drive-in theater after the industry had been largely stagnant through the 1930s. Prior to World War II, only 15 drive-in movie theaters operated in the country. 

Following the war, the drive-in theater industry boomed as a response to rising car ownership and suburban growth. Between 1947 and 1951, the number of drive-ins in the U.S. ballooned from 155 to 4,151 and then peaked during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Locally, the majority of theaters were mostly located in rural areas on the edge of the city.

Improvements in home entertainment options, such as color television, cable television, VCRs and video rental, eventually led to the decline of the drive-in movie industry. The majority of Jacksonville’s drive-in theaters closed for good during the 1970s and 1980s. Overall, less than 200 drive-ins were still in operation in the U.S. and Canada by the late 1980s. Jacksonville’s last full-time drive-in theater, the Playtime 3 Drive-In on Blanding Boulevard, closed in 2008. Thanks to Cinema Treasures, a guide to more than 59,000 movie theaters around the world, here are 16 drive-in theaters that entertained Jaxsons during the industry’s mid-20th century heyday.

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1. Airbase Drive-In, 8370 Roosevelt Blvd.

The Airbase Drive-in opened its doors on September 5, 1948. Built with the capacity of 300 automobiles, the theater was located on U.S. Highway 17, one mile south of Naval Air Station Jacksonville. At the time, designed with a modern colonial motif, it was said to be one of the most beautiful theaters in the South. Today, it’s the location of 84 Lumber at the intersection of Roosevelt Boulevard and Collins Road.

2. Atlantic Drive-In, 5800 Atlantic Blvd.

The Jacksonville Drive-In opened on December 6, 1939. The theater was located at the southwest corner of Atlantic Boulevard and Bartram Road near Empire Point. It was believed to be Florida’s first drive-in theater. Around 1945, the name was changed to the Atlantic Drive-In. The theater closed its doors in 1975. With a Publix supermarket as its main anchor, the Arlington River shopping center occupies the former drive-in theater site today.

3. Blanding Drive-In, 4947 Blanding Blvd.

The Blanding Drive-In opened during the 1960s as a one screen property that accommodated up to 825 parked vehicles. It was constructed to cater to the neighborhoods of Cedar Hills and Confederate Point. Over the years, it was owned and operated by Kent Theatres, Inc. and Martin Theatres. After closing, the property situated between Blanding and Wesconnett boulevards was used as the headquarters for Vystar Credit Union for several years. Today, it’s an AutoZone Auto Parts store.

4. Fox Drive-In, 7777 Normandy Blvd.

Owned by Eastern Federal Corporation, the Fox Drive-In was the city’s westernmost drive-in theater property. Initially a one screen theater, a second screen was eventually added to the property around 1976. The Fox was the last property in Jacksonville owned by Eastern Federal when it closed in 1986. While the theater that accommodated up to 800 cars is no more, the property’s shape has been preserved with the redevelopment of the site into an apartment complex.

5. Lake Forest Drive-In, 7612 Oriole St.

The Lake Forest Drive-In opened during the mid-1950s on a site that most would find odd because it was not located on a major thoroughfare, at the intersection of Rowe Avenue and Oriole Street in Northwest Jacksonville. Operated by Kent Theatres, the one-screen theater accommodated up to 300 vehicles. The drive-in closed for good in 1980. Today, the site is the location of the Peace Missionary Baptist Church.

6. Loew’s Normandy Twin Open-Air Theatre, 5011 Normandy Blvd.

Designed by architect F. Earl Delow, the Normandy Drive-In opened in April 1949. Accommodating 1,010 vehicles, the two-screen drive-in was the largest of its kind in Jacksonville. The facility also featured a miniature Seaboard Silver Meteor train, free donkey rides, a 5-acre playground and outdoor seating for 400 walk-in customers. In June 1955, it was acquired by Loew’s, Inc. Less than a decade later, the theater closed and the property was redeveloped into the Normandy Mall in 1963. Today, its tenants include Winn-Dixie, Marshalls and a church.

7. Main Street Drive-In, 5601 Main St.

The Main Street Drive-In was developed by the Talgar Theatre Co. chain. It opened to the public on September 1, 1950. Located at Main and 45th streets, the one-screen theater accommodated 700 vehicles. It also featured a cafeteria-style concession stand, playground seating and stadium-style seating for patrons not wishing to sit in an automobile. Kent Theatres Inc. operated the theater during the late 1960s. After its closure, the property was redeveloped into a shopping center in 1989.

8. Moncrief Drive-In, 5139 Moncrief Road

Opening to the public in March 1953, the Moncrief Drive-In served Jacksonville’s African American community. Constructed by National Theatre Enterprises, it was one of the city’s smallest drive-ins, accommodating up to only 350 parked vehicles. Adjacent to Moncrief Springs, it was later operated by Bailey Theatres. The Moncrief Drive-In closed and was replaced by apartments in 1971.

9. Oceanway Drive-In, 13141 Main St. N.

The Oceanway Drive-In was Jacksonville’s northernmost drive-in theater. Independently owned and operated, the one-screen theater was located on U.S. Highway 17 between Elizabeth and Drury lanes. During the early 2000s, the former theater property became a part of the right-of-way acquired for the construction of Airport Center Drive.

10. Pine Drive-In,139 Eastport Road

The Pine Drive-In opened as a single-screen drive-in theater during the 1950s. It was owned by Clark Film and located on Eastport Road, just east of U.S. Highway 17. During the early 1970s, the complex was expanded into a triple-screen theater that could accommodate 300 vehicles. The theater closed for good during the mid-1980s. The 11-acre site is now the location of Fiber International, LLC, a global exporter of Southern Yellow Pine.

11. Playtime 3 Drive-In, 6300 Blanding Blvd.

The Twin Hills Drive-In opened on Blanding Boulevard in 1948. Eventually rebranded as the Playtime 3 Drive-In, the property was expanded with additional screens during the 1980s and 1990s. Playtime 3 remained in business until May of 2008.

12. Ribault Drive-In 1 & 2, 4819 Soutel Drive

The Ribault Drive-In opened on Soutel Drive near the Sherwood Forest neighborhood in 1955. The one-screen theater was built to accommodate up to 400 cars. During its early years, it was operated by the Eastern Federal Corp. In 1957, it was notable for an August 24th advertisement containing a quadruple run of film titles that all began with “Hell.” When business began to decline, the property was leased to independent operators until closing for good in the mid-1980s.

13. Skyview Drive-In, 1887 Kings Road

Designed by noted local architect Roy Benjamin, the Skyview Drive-In was an exception to the typical drive-in movie theater in Jacksonville. While most were located on the edge of the city, the Skyview was one block away from Edward Waters University in an urban setting. Opening to the public in 1949, it was located on Kings Road and served the city’s African American community. With a capacity for 375 cars, the one-screen Skyview operated for 15 years. In 1968, the former Skyway Drive-In property was redeveloped into the Campus Towers housing complex.

14. Southside Drive-In, 5515 Phillips Highway

Built by Joseph Ripley, the Southside Drive-In opened around 1952. Upon completion, the one-screen theater was leased to operator Fred Kent. Located near the intersection of Philips Highway and University Boulevard, the 600-car-capacity theater closed in 1980 and was demolished in the same year. Today, the site includes a tire shop and Shooters gun shop.

15. University Drive-In, 3425 University Blvd. N.

The University Drive-In opened during the mid-1960s to serve the then rapidly growing Arlington community. It was owned and operated by Eastern Federal Corp., which also used the site as the chain’s district office for many years. In 1975, it became the subject of U.S. Supreme Court case Erznoznik v. City of Jacksonville, a ruling that struck down a Jacksonville ordinance that prohibited showing films containing nudity when the screen was visible from a public place. (The court found that “Since the ‘offended viewer readily can avert his eyes’ from the films shown, Jacksonville’s distinction between films with nudity and films without nudity was unconstitutional.”) During the late 1970s, the theater site was acquired by K-Mart. After K-Mart’s closure, the property was renovated into the University Park Branch Library.

author image The Jaxson Ennis Davis, AICP is an urban planner and member of the city of Jacksonville's Downtown Development Review Board. He is also co-owner of The Jaxson and Modern Cities. Reach Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com.
author image The Jaxson Ennis Davis, AICP is an urban planner and member of the city of Jacksonville's Downtown Development Review Board. He is also co-owner of The Jaxson and Modern Cities. Reach Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com.

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