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Vintage photographs of a drive-in church in Florida, 1947


After World War II, America's love affair with the car was in full swing. You can drive through just about anything – movie theaters, car washes, restaurants, banks, and even churches. This is a very American way of going to church.

These rare photos of a drive-in church in St. Petersburg (Florida) were taken for an article in LIFE magazine that was never published.

They certainly lack some popcorn, perhaps some roller-skating preachers distributing altar bread, but overall, the idea lends some spice to the Sunday service. Petersburg still has a drive-in church today, but without the impressive line-up of classic cars, we can imagine it doesn't have the same charm.

The first historic official drive-in establishment was a movie theater. A partial drive-in theater - the Theater de Guadalupe - was opened in Las Cruces, New Mexico on April 23, 1915: the auditorium can comfortably seat seven hundred people. Automobile entrance and space for 40 or more cars within the theater grounds and in-line position to view pictures and all performances on stage is a feature of the space that will please car owners.

In 1921, a drive-in was opened in Comanche, Texas by Claude V. Kever. Cavour obtained a permit from the city to project the films downtown. With cars parked bumper-to-bumper, patrons watched screenings of silent films from their vehicles.

In the 1920s, "outdoor movies" became a popular summer pastime, but relatively few "drive-in" experiments were conducted due to logistical difficulties.


The drive-in theater was patented in Camden, New Jersey by chemical company magnate Richard M. Hollingshead, Jr., whose family owned R.M. owned and operated. Hollingshead Corporation Chemical Plant in Camden.

In 1932, Hollingshead conducted outdoor theater trials in his driveway at 212 Thomas Avenue in Riverton. After placing a screen on the trees in his backyard, he mounted a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his car and a radio behind the screen, testing various sound levels along the bottom and top of his car's windows.

The blocks beneath vehicles in the driveway enabled them to determine the size and spacing of the ramps so that all automobiles could have a clear view of the screen. Hollingshead applied for a patent for his invention. Since that time the drive-in concept has expanded to the food industry, entertainment, churches and other establishments.




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