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Special Feature: Charleston Area Drive-Ins

There was a time when the Charleston area had seven operating drive-ins. That was around 1951 to 1953 and included Charleston, the North Area, Summerville and Moncks Corner. The first drive-in in the area opened in 1945. The last drive-in to close, in 1987, was at the same location but went by a different name.

People who lived in the Charleston area during the period from 1965 to 1985 may remember the North 52 Drive-In, Gateway Drive-In, Magnolia Drive In, Swamp Fox Drive-In and the Port Drive-In. Between 1945 and 1987 several others came and went. How many do you remember?

St. Andrews Drive-In
(June 1, 1949 – February 4, 1953)
460 Arlington Drive
Across from where the Mark Clark Expressway intersects with Savannah Highway.
aka: Henry’s Drive-In
(Feb 9, 1953 – Feb 14, 1953)
aka: Henry’s St. Andrew’s Drive-In
(Feb 15, 1953 – Nov, 1954)

Lawrence Henry Ayers and his wife Ruth opened the St. Andrews Drive-In on June 1, 1949. It was located off of Highway 17 South near where the Mark Clark Expressway intersects with Savannah Highway. Mr. Ayers advertised his three drive-ins as L.H Ayers Theatres and proclaimed them “Charleston’s Only Home-Owned Drive-Ins.” Their other two drive-ins were the Summerville Drive-In and 4-Mile Drive-In.

Mr. Ayers sold the St. Andrews Drive-In to Henry Smith and John H. Pembroke in 1953. On February 9, 1953, it reopened as Henry’s Drive-In. A week later, advertisements referred to it as Henry’s St. Andrews Drive-In. In November, 1954, the drive-in closed. Three years later the land was purchased by St. John’s Episcopal Church, which built a school on the site. Coastal Community Church bought the property in 2004.

 

News and Courier - June 1, 1949

News and Courier - March 1953

North 52 Drive-In
(September 7, 1949 – September 30, 1987)
4835 Rivers Avenue - North Charleston just north of Montague Avenue near Mall Drive

The Charleston area’s earliest drive-in was the Victory Downs Drive-In, which opened on May 11, 1945. The advertisement in the News and Courier at the time claimed, “Charleston Only Open Air Theater.” It was owned and operated by Dr. J.T. Hiott and G.O. Strickland. Sound came from large speakers at the screen. This was a problem because, the sound lagged the picture the farther back from the screen you were parked.

Consolidated Theaters, purchased the Victory Downs Drive-In in 1948. After major renovations, it reopened on September 7, 1949, as the North 52 Drive-In. An advertisement for the Grand Opening promoted “Speaker in your car, perfect vision, no baby sitters, refreshment stand, no backing up, dress as you like, and smoke if you like.” The ad went on to say, “Escape the city heat, parking worries, traffic jams and noise. Enjoy movies under the stars in your car. Room for 500 cars – no jam, no push. Come out and relax.” The management even promised, “We’ll even warm the baby bottles for free.”

When I-26 was being constructed, the North 52 Drive-in closed for a short time for renovations. This time the drive-in got a larger screen which was moved to the north side of the parking area. The parking ramp was increased to hold 1.000 cars. To speed up entrance to the drive-in, a twin box office was constructed. The new concession stand incorporated a large window so patrons could watch the movie while they waited to be served. The all-new North 52 Drive-In opened on January 19, 1962. In the 1980s, with declining ticket sales, the North 52 Drive-In began showing X-rated movies. Lower income combined with higher property values made it more profitable to sell the theater than to operate it. It closed on September 30, 1987. It was the last drive-in in Charleston to close.

 

Evening Post - May 11, 1945

 

News and Courier - September 7, 1949

 

4-Mile Drive-In
(April 1, 1950 – December 1957)
1968 Meeting Street Road, Charleston

The 4-Mile Drive-In was opened on Meeting Street Road by L.H Ayers on April 1, 1950. It had a capacity of 200 cars. The newspaper ad for the Grand Opening asked, “You don’t have a car? Come anyway! Sit in our comfortable patio.” The 4-Mile Drive-In offered six-inch speakers, modern restrooms and a “Restaurant Stand” specializing in hot dogs.

Someone told me this was the first movie theater in Charleston to give away a free TV set. Considering television was one of the reasons for the eventual decline in movie attendance, giving away a free TV probably wasn’t a good idea. The 4-Mile Drive-In closed in December 1957.

 

News and Courier - April 1, 1950

Magnolia Drive-In
(April 6, 1950 – October 30, 1977)
1500 US 17 South (Savannah Highway)

Consolidated Theaters built the Magnolia Drive-In in the rapidly growing West Ashley area. It opened on April 6, 1950. It featured a 65-foot screen tower and in-car speakers. The management boasted, “Finger-tip control enables you to adjust our golden-voice RCA sound to your own choosing!” The Magnolia had paved entrance and exit. Adult admission was forty cents.

The Magnolia Drive-In had a parking ramp that held 510 cars with additional seating for 200 people on their patio. The large neon Magnolia sign that glowed along Savannah Highway was visible for two miles. Increasing property values was the major factor in the closing of the Magnolia Drive-In on October 30, 1977. It’s location is now lost among the car dealerships that now line the highway.

 

News and Courier - April 6, 1950

Flamingo Drive-In
(June 8, 1950 – June 1968)
4650 Rivers Avenue,
North Charleston, SC 29405

The Flamingo Drive-In opened June 8, 1950 after the venue was purchased by Consolidated Theaters. Before that, the Ebony Drive-In opened at this location on April 26, 1950. The Ebony Drive-In was advertised as “The first drive-in theatre in the Carolina’s exclusively for colored folks.” It had spaces for 400 cars and seating for 300 people on its outdoor patio. Palmetto Drive-In Theater Company operated it. After less than one month, the Ebony Drive-In closed.

On May 11, 1950, it opened as the Bonny Drive-In. The management encouraged the inclusion of white patronage. This venue lasted an even shorter time than its predecessor. It closed on May 27, 1950. Consolidated Theaters purchased the property and made substantial renovations. The car capacity was expanded to 450 cars. On June 8, 1950 it opened as the Flamingo Drive-In. It was a popular drive-in offering family-friendly movies for most of its eighteen years. The Flamingo Drive-In closed in June 1968.

 

News and Courier - June 8, 1950

John's Island Drive-In
(August 3, 1950 – August 10, 1950)
River Road near Maybank Highway

Very unusual drive-in advertised only twice in the News and Courier in 1950. Owned and operated by Thelma C. Nix. The advertisement stated, “Thursdays open for white patrons, Fridays open for colored patrons.”

 

News and Courier - August 3, 1950

Seabreeze Drive-In
(January 1, 1951 – October 26, 1957)
426 West Coleman Boulevard, just east of Cliffwood Drive
Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464

Few current residents even know Mount Pleasant had a drive-in theater. When the Seabreeze Drive-In opened on January 1, 1951, the town had a population of less than 9,000. The population today is about 70,000. The Seabreeze Drive-in was located near the Fork Restaurant and the Dairy Queen on U.S. Highway 17, now known as Coleman Boulevard. It was operated by Roy Ferguson and Bill Talbert. It had a car capacity of 385 cars. It closed in December, 1954 and reopened on March 27, 1955 with a new CinemaScope system.

One funny story about the Seabreeze Drive-In appeared in Charleston’s News and Courier on January 24, 1956. The article read, “An obscene film charge was thrown out of court in Mount Pleasant yesterday because no on would admit having seen the alleged ‘shocker.’ Magistrate Paul A. Foster dismissed W.F. Harris, manager of the Seabreeze Drive-In Theater charged with showing an obscene film, on grounds of insufficient evidence.” I suppose the story wasn’t funny to Mr. Harris. An earlier article stated that a special screening of the film, “Untamed Mistress” was held so that defense attorneys could see the film before the hearing.

On August 9, 1957 the drive-in opened under new management as the Azalea Auto Theater. It closed in October.

 

News and Courier - December 31, 1950

News and Courier - October 26, 1957

Gateway Drive-In
(June 5, 1968 – May 1979)
Highway 52 at Ashley Phosphate Road

Consolidated Theaters opened the Gateway Drive-In on Highway 52 north of Ashley Phosphate Road on June 5, 1968. The screen tower was 75 feet by 124 feet, which the management claimed was the largest screen in the southeast. The parking could accommodate 1,150 cars. The concession stand and restrooms were in the same air-conditioned building. The Grand Opening advertisement claimed the self-serve snack bar was designed to serve 2,500 people in 15 minutes. The Gateway Drive-In occupied over 28 acres and included a playground.

In the 1970s, the Gateway Drive-In began showing adult movies. It faced stiff competition from the many walk-in theaters and other drive-ins. Also, the land was becoming more and more valuable. It had been the area’s most modern and most complete drive-in for eleven years, but times were changing. In 1979 the Gateway Drive-In closed.

 

News and Courier - June 5, 1968

Swamp Fox Drive-In
(January 10, 1975 – 1986)
455 N. Highway 52, Moncks Corner

Before it was named Swamp Fox Drive-In it was the Berkeley Drive-In. Newspaper advertisements give movie schedules for the "Berkeley Theater" and the "Drive-In," so it is unclear if this was called the Berkeley Drive-In or simply the Drive-In. It was the only drive-in in the Moncks Corner area. It opened in 1950. The parking ramp held 200 cars. In January, 1975, Consolidated Theaters leased the drive-in. It was renamed the Swamp Fox Drive-In.

In 1984, Consolidated Theaters did not renew its lease. Mr. M.C. Burnett was the manager at that time. He took over the drive-in as an independent operator. The Swamp Fox Drive-In closed in 1986. In 2006 the familiar local landmark was demolished.

We interviewed Mr. M.C. Burnett in August, 2013. To read his recollections of operating drive-in in the Charleston area CLICK HERE.

 

News and Courier - January 10, 1975

Port Drive-In
(March 20, 1970 – August 1986)
5300 block off of Rivers Avenue, North Charleston

The Port Drive-In opened on March 20, 1970 just off Rivers Avenue near where the Mark Clark Expressway passes today. Their Grand Opening advertisement said they were located at Miller’s Discount, which, in the 1970 City Directory, is 5300 Rivers Avenue.

One of their early opening advertisements said, “Out of the swamp has emerged Charleston’s Modern Drive-In Theatre!” That was literally true. They must have done a big business selling mosquito coils. The parking ramp held 800 cars.

The opening program consisted of four horror flicks. The advertisement proclaimed, “Doctors, Nurses and Ambulances are on call for the weak hearted.” As time passed, the Port Drive-In began showing mostly “R” and “XXX” rated movies. It closed in August 1986. Liberty Mall Shopping Center was built at the location.

 

News and Courier - March 20, 1970

Summerville Drive-In
(July 1948 – July 1956)
10310 U.S. Highway 78 E between Summerville and Ladson

Before moving to Summerville, Lawrence Henry Ayers, and his wife Ruth, lived in Bowman, South Carolina. They opened a drive-in in Holly Hill in 1947. They moved to Summerville in 1948 and opened the Summerville Drive-In, between Summerville and Ladson on Highway 78.

The Summerville Drive-In had a car capacity of 200 cars and had in-a-car speakers. The drive-in closed in July of 1956.

 

News and Courier - November 1948

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