During the Second World War, travel restrictions and rationing of tires and gasoline kept many of Lane County’s residents from driving too far from home. They could find hours of entertainment and escape from the cares of the day, however, at nearby movie theaters.
Once the war ended, people all around the country were able to get back on the road. It didn’t take long until the two great passions–movies and cars–combined, and soon the drive-in theater arrived.
The first in the area, the Eugene Drive-In, opened in 1948 on several acres between 28th and 29th Avenues on Willamette Street. For 60 cents for adults and 15 cents for kids, viewers could settle comfortably in their cars while watching a double feature and a couple of cartoons.
The folks who ran the theater realized kids with nothing to do before the sun set might cause problems for their parents. Their ads from the 1950s claimed that the Eugene Drive-In had “The Biggest Kiddie Playland in Any Theater in America!” At various times, attractions also included free cotton candy and pony rides.
They didn’t miss an opportunity, either, where their neighbors were concerned. Because the big screen could be seen from many of the hillside homes around the theater, proprietors offered to wire in sound for a small fee so the neighbors could enjoy the shows from the comfort of their own homes.
The Eugene Drive-In was so successful, it didn’t take long for competitors to step up. In August 1950, two new facilities opened their gates in Springfield. The Motor-Vu opened on 41st and Main Street on August 18, and the Cascade Drive-In opened just a few blocks east, on 49th and Main, eight days later.
The grand-opening ad for the Motor-Vu tells us why drive-ins were so popular:
“Come in as you are!”
“No more sitters!”
“Relax in your car!”
“Smoke if you like!”
“No more parking worries!”
“Bring the baby, too!”
This ad gave the price of admission as 60 cents for adults, 20 cents for kids, and free for children under six years old. Parents could put their kids in pajamas, pack some treats, and everyone could be together for an evening of fun.
Of course, getting in to the movie for free was a challenge accepted by many, too. Lots of teens were known to hide in the trunks of their friends’ cars to avoid paying the price of admission.
Other drive-ins opened in the area, including the North End near Barger Drive; the Vista, behind the Guaranty car lots in Junction City; and the West 11th Twin, on land now occupied by Fred Meyer.
In 1962, the Eugene Drive-In was relocated to Henderson Avenue off Franklin Boulevard in Glenwood.
Drive-ins gradually died out as multiplex theaters in malls offered more movie options, better sound, and arcade games. Riding on beleaguered ponies going in circles just didn’t have the same attraction for the kids as video games, and grown-up movie tastes began to include things that shouldn’t necessarily be visible to families driving by on city streets.
One by one, the drive-ins closed, and with them went nearly all traces they had ever existed. However, if you are traveling on Franklin Boulevard near Henderson Street, you can still see the Eugene Drive-In’s marquee sign standing. It is now just a skeleton––unlit, unmarked, and largely disregarded––but to those who recognize it, it is a reminder of good times had on summer evenings long ago.