It’s the End of the World as We Know It: The Moonlite Drive-In

(aka The Drive-In of the Damned)

Moonlite Drive-In Sign July 2011
Moonlite Drive-In Sign January 2012

I’ve seen more shooting stars at the drive-in than anywhere else on earth.  Man has always looked to the sky. For eons, the moon has been our ever present companion, and the heavenly landmark that tells us we are Earthbound, in the same way that the Golden Gate Bridge announces we are in San Francisco.  There is something awe inspiring about sitting outside, with the stars on the screen competing with the eternal stars in the sky. Drive-in movies combine a primal experience with some of the creature comforts of a more modern life. 

Moonlite Drive-In Ticket Booth Summer 2011
Moonlite Drive-In Ticket Booth Winter 2012
Ticket Booth Interior–Think the Windex will help?

You may remember going to these outdoor theaters as a child dressed in pajamas, as you played on the swings and slides that were usually found near the big screen.  Or you may recall other memories that include the backseat of the car and steamy windows.  For many teenagers, the drive-in was a rite of passage that included illicit bottles of beer and as many friends as you could pack into one vehicle.    But your age didn’t matter when it was time to visit the concession stand.

Concession Stand Interior

Drive-in movie food is unlike any food you will ever find in some generic multiplex cinema.  Drive-in food is packed with personality and a lot of mobility—at least according to the concession stand advertisements traditionally shown during intermission.  This food danced, it sang, performed circus acts and was always tasty, satisfying, and refreshing.    It constantly reminded you that it was 5 minutes until the start of the show…..now 4…..just 3…..only 2 minutes left—better get those tasty fries now!  Make sure you compliment your order with a refreshing soda!  You’ll feel satisfied! That is until you attempt to drive away with that metal speaker still hooked over your car window…..

Moonlite Concession Stand Summer 2011
Smoke ’em if you got ’em! Because you’re not getting any here…..

The very first drive-in theater was created in 1932 by Richard Hollingshead when he nailed a screen to some trees in his backyard in Camden, New Jersey.  He set a Kodak projector on the hood of his car and placed a radio behind the movie screen.  He applied for, and received, a patent for his invention in 1933.  That same year, Hollingshead opened the very first drive-in, on June 6th in Camden, with an investment of $30,000.  Admission was 25 cents per car PLUS an additional 25 cents per person.  Within 25 years, more than 4,000 drive-ins opened nationwide, with Pennsylvania playing an impressive role in drive-in movie history.

Abandoned Moonlite Drive-In Screen Summer 2011
Drink Coca Cola at the Moonlite

In 1934, Pennsylvania’s first drive-in, and America’s second, was opened in Orefield by a man named Wilson Shankweiler.  The Shankweiler Drive-In  is still operating today; making it the nation’s oldest continually operating drive-in theater.

January 2011
Abandoned Vehicle at the Moonlite (The Biohazard Bus @ The Drive-In of the Damned)

In addition to claiming the longest running drive-in, Pennsylvania can also boast about the fact that it had one of the two smallest drive-ins nationwide.  The Harmony Drive-In, of Harmony Pennsylvania, could hold no more than 50 cars, just like the other “smallest” contender, the Highway Drive-In located in Bamberg, South Carolina.

During the golden age of Pennsylvania’s Drive-In Era, the late 1950’s & early 1960’s, it is reported that the state peaked with 180 in operation.  Since that time, the number of drive-ins still operating in the state today has declined by more than 80%.  The Moonlite Drive-In is one of those casualties.

WARNING
Follow the Red Arrow

 

 The Abandoned Projection Room

Piece of Film
Projector

 

The Moonlite Drive-In ruins are located at 1190 Shoemaker Ave in West Wyoming, Pennsylvania—or as the locals call it, “the back road” in Swoyersville / Edwardsville. The location could accommodate about 400 cars. Some accounts say that it closed in the late 70s, but I found an ad from 1983 when the price of a carload was $5—which is a $4 increase from their price in 1965!  People telling stories about visiting the Moonlite usually mention that the man at the ticket booth would tell them to “KEEP SMILING” as they drove away to watch the show.

Going to the Moonlite Drive-In today feels like visiting the planet earth a few decades after an apocalypse.  The landscape is wildly overgrown, even in front of the big screen.  The Snack Bar stands in a half-burned down state of decay.  The sounds of the movies, racing car engines, and giddy movie-goers have been replaced by screeching birds circling overhead while the tall grass rustles in the breeze.  The setting is a desolate reminder of a world that used to be, and a time when we had access to the stars, for $5 a carload. 

Moonlite CLOSED

KEEP SMILING!!!!!

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GUERRILLA HISTORY Table of Contents

Cheri Sundra © 2012

All Rights Reserved

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    • David DeCosmo
    • February 7th, 2012

    Fantastic job on the article and the photographs! I come from a “theater family.” My dad was a projectionist and that included regular shifts at the first Drive In in the Hazleton area and two others around the city one of which, the Laurel, is still operating during the summer season. Several time my neice and I have joked about taking over the old Moonlight Drive In and getting it started again. Interestingly, a national web site on Drive In Theaters lists the Moonlight as a Walmart site. I don’t know how that happened! The Circle Drive In is still operating in Dickson City as is the dule screen Garden Drive In near Nanticoke at Hunlock’s Creek. (Like the Laurel, summer time only). The last I remember the Moonlight was being operated by two brothers. I don’t know who owns the property now. There’s also still a Marque for the old West Side Drive In along Route 11 near Edwardsville. I don’t know if any of the Drive In facilities exist on the property or not. Again, a job well done! Thank you!

      • walter
      • May 11th, 2013

      Now I can’t stop smiling! Thank you for the memories!

  1. That picture of the piece of film is remarkably sad. It somehow reminds me of a used, discarded condom. (One in particular that was tossed in the parking lot of our DVD Authoring studio.)

    That image should be displayed, without comment, in the head office of every technology company today.

  2. Wonderful post! You have nicely captured the forlorn atmosphere. Drive-ins never really took off over here (in the UK) but apparently there are some available – at £25 ($40) a car – http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/britain-gets-a-taste-for-the-drivein-movie-2293190.html

  3. Very nice blog! I love visiting abandoned postwar-era locales. It was an age I never got to grow up in, but the fact that I can still access some places like this is surreal to me. It’s as if I were visiting the past. Everything has moved on except for the particular place I am observing. It hasn’t been torn down, redesigned, or replaced. Places like this stand as a testament to another time, and another way of life.

  4. Great Blog!! I’ll have to check this place out. Got here by seeing your photos of The Sterling- What a beautiful place that is

  5. Mr. Sam Rizzo and his Family Owned and operated the Moonlite Drive in in the 1970’s. He was the ticket collector with the “Famous Smile”..

    • Kati Swetland
    • February 29th, 2012

    Pretty nice post. I simply stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I’ve truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. I’m hoping you write again very soon!

  6. Some of my best memories from my childhood were of pj’s and the Moonlite Drive in!

  7. Incredible. I had no idea that remnants of the Moonlight still existed! I figured it had all be reclaimed into a housing development…now i want to go exploring….

  8. i have a poster from this theater “when dinosaurs ruled the earth” it’s in rough shape but so’s the drive-in! anyone want to buy it lemme know!

    • John Seasock
    • December 11th, 2012

    I remember being on a date in my 1940 Buick with girl friend and 3 other couples when the price was $1.00 for the car load, $1.00 for gas in my car, and $2.00 to buy drinks and food at the movie stand. I’ll never forget those happy days in my life.

  9. Wow! You have a fabulous blog! I can remember many of my teenage weekend evenings spent at the drive-in I believe it was called Mt. Laurel in Hazleton. This brought back a lot of good memories and slower paced times.

    • l hannawacker
    • June 6th, 2013

    Great pictures my uncles owned the moonlite drivein lots of great times and happy memories and as my uncle said to every car keep smiling as they pulled in to watch a movie

    • Mark
    • July 25th, 2013

    I grew up very near to the Moonlight Drive-In…saw Bambi there in the ’70s. I too wanted to photograph this on a visit home one time, but had my young kids with me and I couldn’t give it it’s due. You may be interested in this brief slideshow I did of the Mahoning Drive-In (still in operation) > http://vimeo.com/40146596
    ~ Mark

    • Mike Giamber
    • May 1st, 2014

    You are a gem. I want to express my appreciation for your research and bringing back fond memories. The Moonlite is a place I will never forget.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Scott
    • June 16th, 2016

    The place is currently for sale, at a listing price of a quarter of a million:
    http://www.zillow.com/homes/1190-Shoemaker-Avenue,-West-Wyoming,-PA_rb/

  10. Your blog was tremendous in many ways: well-written, excellent photos to capture the feelings who expressed. If the Moonlite would reopen today, it would do a great business. There are many in the valley who would bring their families to see movies under the stars. I have wonderful memories taking our son and his friends to drive-ins. They are so precious to me!!

  11. gotta love those old drive in theaters.

    fond memory of summers long ago.

    nice find and photos…..

    • Anonymous
    • April 3rd, 2017

    The Moonlite will reopen in about two months.

  1. June 5th, 2013

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