Drive-in movie theaters were a cultural staple of mid-20th-century America. Every community of any size had at least one drive-in movie theater.
These were big, often garish places with giant screens and bright paint. In DeLand, it was the Boulevard Drive-In, mostly just called the “drive-in.” No one who grew up in DeLand in the 1960s does not remember the drive-in.
As with the Sugar Top restaurant, we all have at least one story about time spent at the drive-in.
The drive-in was on South Woodland Boulevard on a parcel now occupied by the Woodland Towers nursing home. For years, the large neon sign survived at the old entry, but it has now been removed.
It was your typical drive-in, with a large panel as the movie screen, and a small building for the projection and a snack bar. The parking spaces were slightly elevated at the front, and speakers hung on posts. The idea was to pull the speaker off the post and hang it on your window.
For many of DeLand’s youth in the 1960s, this was “the” place to spend a Friday or Saturday night.
The drive-in was a place of mystery and intrigue. It had a sort of wild, ungoverned nature.
For kids who grew up in the strictly regimented postwar era, it represented a certain form of freedom. The back row of parking was commonly respected as a lovers’ lane, while the front row was reserved for those who actually came to watch the movie.
All the other rows were up for grabs.
It was common for kids to run between cars and gather in small groups to do what kids do. Girls would support each other in the loss of a boyfriend or the possible conquest of a new one, and boys would strut with imagined bravado.
Old pickup trucks would reverse into the parking spaces with couches in the back for luxury viewing.
DeLand did not have a lot of evening entertainment options for its youth, so the drive-in became a nocturnal gathering spot, providing opportunity for many of the forbidden distractions. It became so notorious that parents would warn against going to the drive-in, often with marginal success.
The fee was per person, not per car. Of course, there were the classic tales of kids piling into car trunks to avoid the charge, but I never saw that.
It was at the drive-in that I saw Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns and Paul Newman’s racing movie, but mostly shown were “B” styled movies.
The screen was huge, and the property was surrounded only by a chain-link fence. Many cars would park outside the fence so folks could watch the movie (absent sound) for free.
From time to time, someone from management would run them off, only to have them circle the block and return.
There was a time in DeLand when mosquitoes were a plague. A hot summer evening would bring out hordes of the little demons.
At the drive-in, the Florida heat made you keep the car windows down just to breathe. Some kids had the luxury of their parents’ cars and could run the air conditioning, but most of us had old trucks and fourthhand cars.
The snack bar sold coils of repellent called “Pic.” You would light it, and it burned in a coiled circle until done. Who knows what the chemicals were in “Pic,” but it seemed to have an effect on the insects.
In reflection, I can’t say that the drive-in was a wholesome place or that it added much to the cultural betterment of DeLand, but it was a perfect place for kids who wanted to experience that first taste of freedom in a small Florida town.
— Mancinik is a fifth-generation Floridian and a native of DeLand. He has been an active Realtor for more than 40 years.