A mostly bygone big screen: Movie enthusiast recounts local history of drive-in theaters | St. Louis Public Radio

A mostly bygone big screen: Movie enthusiast recounts local history of drive-in theaters

Jun 8, 2018

Tom Stockman, a self-described movie geek, joined Friday’s show for a look back at the heyday of St. Louis’ drive-in movie theaters, two of which still exist within an hour’s drive of the city.
Credit Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Tom Stockman estimates that back in 1961 – the year he was born – about 4,100 drive-in movie theaters dotted the U.S. landscape. Now their ranks have dwindled to a total of roughly 350.

66 Park-in, The Airway Twin, Holiday – these and most other St. Louis-area outdoor theaters that were all the rage in the Gateway City several decades ago have disappeared. Much of the industry’s demise locally had to do with real estate, Stockman said on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air.

“Back when the drive-ins were built in the ’40s, they were were sort of built out in the far west [St. Louis County],” he explained in conversation with host Don Marsh. “For example, the first drive-in in the St. Louis area was at Manchester and Ballas where West County Mall currently sits … as the city expanded and the county expanded out west, that real estate became more and more valuable.

“It made more sense to build West County Mall than to keep the drive-in open – the drive-in was only open several months of the year; it was only open at night.”

Stockman, creative editor for the website We Are Movie Geeks, discussed the history of the region’s drive-ins and some of the nostalgia, films and stories associated with them.

He noted that not all of the drive-ins are gone and praised Skyview, located in downtown Belleville, Illinois, as a still-thriving local destination.

“It’s a very nice drive-in, and it really packs them in and is very well kept up,” Stockman said. “There’s another one in Cadet, Missouri, which is about an hour southwest of St. Louis near De Soto.”

The ever-changing film industry has made it difficult for drive-ins to keep up, he added, citing everything from the proliferation of VHS tapes to today’s digital technologies.

“We’re a little spoiled now – we go to these theaters, and they have these reclining seats and these big giant IMAX, beautiful digital image, state-of-the-art sound,” Stockman said. “And you go to the drive-in, and it’s sort of dark and muddy and the sound’s not quite as good. It’s not quite the same as back in the day.”

Related Event

What: An Illustrated History of the St. Louis Drive-In Movie Theaters
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, June 14, 2018
Where: Missouri History Museum (5700 Lindell Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63112)

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie HemphillLara Hamdan and Caitlin Lally give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.