In the not so distant past, Northside had many places to go for entertainment. There were social clubs like the Moose, Church Hill Tavern, The Allegheny Social Hall, Islam Grotto and more. Family entertainment and movie theaters were also plentiful with places such as the Garden Theater, Kenyon Theater, Atlas, Hippodrome, Perry-Harris Theater, Arcadia and the Century Family Theater located on east Ohio Street. Many newcomers to our neighborhood did not know that the Northside also hosted a Drive In Theatre.
The Northside Drive-In Theatre was opened on November 15, 1963. It was located on Williams/Geyer Road/Lamar Street just outside of the newly opened Northview Heights housing project. It was the second of two Drive-In theaters to be built within city limits, the first being Silver Lake in East Liberty which opened on September 9, 1949. The Drive-In (as we called it on the Northside) had 1 giant screen and could host 700 cars. Movies could be watched all year around at this all-weather drive-in. Many Northsider’s didn’t even know that the 10,000 square foot concession building also included 2 year ’round auditoriums with seating for watching movies. The opening night movies included “A New Kind of Love” with Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward and “Sodom & Gomorrah.”
My family moved to Northview Heights in 1968. We lived at 883 which was the last house, in the last row closest to the Drive-In. Lamar Street/Williams Road was the street behind our backyard. You could see the screen clearly from the back windows of our house, especially in late fall, winter and early spring. We took it for granted during it’s time but living near a giant theater screen was truly a unique experience. I was a child in the 1970’s but I recall people from the neighborhood watching the movies from over the hillside by my cousin Shawn’s row, near the 700 block of Mt. Pleasant Road. There was a huge opening in the fence and a direct view of the screen just South. Others would watch from the woods on the outer perimeter of the drive-in because it was easier to hear. I watched many movies from the hillside including Inframan, Ultraman, Godzilla and many Bruce Lee movies. I remember my older brother Doran and his friends earning money from cleaning up the drive-in lot. This would have been around 1974-75. Around 1977 myself and my cousin Shawn took a page out of their book and cleaned the grounds also. Not only would you find money often, but the owners also gave us a few bucks. We were sometimes given free admission. I recall one night in the summer of 1978, my mom piled us all in the wooden station wagon to head to the drive-in to see “Harper Valley PTA” and we got in for free. I also recall that we got free soft drinks and popcorn that night too.
The drive-in also featured adult porn at night. It seemed to be a trend also followed by the Garden Theater. I don’t recall exactly when it began because as a children we were in by street light time. As I gained a little more night time freedom, it was unavoidable to see porn at night. Not that I was trying to avoid it (lol), but it was always there every night during the late 1970’s. It was also easy to see from our backyard and back windows. It seemed like just normal life but now I can’t help but wonder how they were allowed to show porn next to a neighborhood that was densely populated with children.
The Northside Drive-In Theatre closed in 1981. I remained in Northview Heights until about 1990. I remember watching the bushes starting to reclaim the lot and the sign starting to rust. The screen remained for several years also and eventually fell apart. It was sad to see because the Northside started losing many of it’s attractions to the North Hills and other suburban areas during this time frame. Change is constant. That is why it is so important to take photos and share memories. If drive-in theaters ever make a comeback to the cities, I believe that the Northside could once again be a prime location.
Please support the Northside also by supporting these fine establishments:
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