Drive-in theaters flickered brightly, then went dark
July 15, 2017 at 4:27 p.m.
Updated July 16, 2017 at 6 a.m.
Submitted by Victoria Preservation Inc.
The Unites States got its first drive-in theater in 1933. Originally called a "park-in," it was in Camden, N.J.
Victorians would have to wait 15 years for their first drive-in theater, the Tejas.
The photograph accompanying this article shows the Tejas Drive-in, built in 1948 by Victoria's Frels family. It was at what would become the 5100 block of North Navarro Street. The entrance road shown exists in present-day North Star Drive.
The highway running diagonally across the upper part of the photograph is what was called at the time "the Hallettsville Highway." Today, it is North Navarro Street. The unpaved rural road intersecting the highway is Mockingbird Lane.
The movie shown at the grand opening of the Tejas Drive-In Theatre, on June 2, 1948, was "Carnival in Costa Rica," with Dick Haymes, Vera-Ellen, Cesar Romero and Celeste Holm. Admission was 9 cents for children and 35 cents for adults.
A year or two following the opening of the Tejas, the Long family, from Bay City, built the Twin Ranch Drive-In Theatre at what would become the 4000 block of North Navarro. Later, the name would be changed to the Gemini Theatre. Gemini Court today marks the location of the entrance to the Twin Ranch.
Shortly after the opening of the Twin Ranch, another screen was added to the Tejas Drive-In Theatre, and it was called thereafter the Tejas-Aztec Drive-In Theatre.
In 1957, the Frels family built Victoria's third drive-in theater, the Lone Tree Drive-In Theatre at 3611 Lone Tree Road.
Drive-in theaters were immensely popular throughout the United States, which had more than 4,000 at one time. Whole families would attend and watch movies from the comfort of their cars. Many theaters had playgrounds for the children. Often, the family dinner on drive-in movie night was popcorn, Coca-Colas and hot dogs with plenty of mustard and ketchup. The car-cleaning-up job likely was left for the next day.
Drive-in theater dates were popular with young people, providing both entertainment and a degree of privacy not available in a downtown theater.
High school boys worked as ticket-takers, transporting fares to the ticket booth and returning to the cars with ticket stubs. They also changed the marquees, and both high school boys and girls worked in the concession stands, making hot dogs or popcorn and dispensing frosty soft drinks. Some who changed the marquees learned, to their chagrin, that Montgomery Cliff's last name was not spelled with a "t".
The Tejas-Aztec Drive-In Theatre closed in 1959, largely because of the increasing popularity of television. In 1961 Hurricane Carla destroyed both screens.
Hurricane Carla also damaged screens at both the Twin Ranch and the Lone Tree Drive-In Theatre, but they were repaired. Sometime later, the Twin Ranch became the Gemini Theatre.
The 1981 Victoria City Directory indicates the Gemini was still in operation in that year. However, it is not mentioned in the 1982 City Directory, indicating the Gemini closed sometime in 1981.
Victoria's last drive-in theater, the Lone Tree, finally closed 10 years later, in 1991, and was demolished the following year, closing out an era of Victoria history.