A night at one of Chicagoland’s last drive-ins

Faces of Chicago
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Drive-in theaters used to be a summer staple in the U.S., but few remain. Still, those left in the Chicago area say they’re seeing more support from neighbors who want to keep the tradition alive. Here’s their story – in their own words:

Scott Dehn, Golden Age Cinemas

My earliest memory is sitting out here with my mom and my dad, my grandma, my sister. I remember I was pulling in from the box office and I just look at this tower. I’m like that’s the biggest television ever.

This place has been around since the mid 40s. The difficult thing is straddling that line of being old and being nostalgic. We are old but but we have you know all the modern amenities, we are always updating things cuz I think it’s only fair that today’s kids get to have that same opportunity to make memories with their family that I did.

In the mid-50s, there were over 5,000 and. Now we’re down to like 200. I think there’s definitely a drive-in resurgence. We noticed it this year because I think with the word and the press that these closing drive-ins got made people understand that hey, we better go support them so we don’t lose another one.

A patron tunes in to the radio station to hear audio at the McHenry Outdoor Theater

Kristy Knapik, concessions worker

Summer is crazy, especially this year, like I’ve never seen us be like this busy in such a long time. So it’s like great to see that the community wants to keep us going and everything, since there’s so many theaters that are closing.

Diana Torres, movie-goer

I come here as much as I can, rain or shine like my dad. My mom would bring me, my sisters.

Once my daughter got old enough, I’ve been bringing her around to show her. You know, what I experienced here. I love this place. I would be so sad if this place got torn down.

A car backs in by a speaker at the McHenry Outdoor Theater

Scott Dehn

That’s the best part, is getting those generational stories. The grandparents were here with their sons and daughters and their grandchildren. So you got three generations of drive-in movie-goers.

There’s more to remember than just seeing a movie here. It’s a tremendous link to our past, think about the things that this drive-in has seen and been through, you know, wars, recessions you name it.

It’s still here and all it takes for it to remain here is to come by, visit it, you know, see two movies, buy a popcorn and that keeps us alive.
That’s all we need.

Patrons watch trailers ahead of a movie at the McHenry Outdoor Theater

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