Over the years, a lot of things changed at the drive-in.
The first week of June, 1954, marked the installation of a new screen at
the Natick Drive-In. Engineered for Cinemascope, it was made of 5,000
square feet of picture surface. As high as a six-story building, and
over 100 feet wide, the screen was twice as large as the giant screen in
Radio City Music Hall, and ten times larger than the average Cinemascope
screen in an indoor theatre.
The Natick Drive In opened Friday June 30, 1950 and closed in 1977. It was
located on the site of the Cloverleaf Marketplace strip mall, across the
street from the former Wonderbread Factory.
Above is an article from Boxoffice Magazine in the mid 1950's showing
Jim Collins, then Manager, describing the latest innovation for
preventing damage to speakers when patrons would forget to take them off
their car windows.
All images are artistic renderings, and recreations, property
Drive-In Days - We all
Alan Henry - January 16, 1977
The Natick Drive-In, that monument to adolescent intrigue and wasteland
of broken hearts and false promises, will soon be just a memory. In the
name of progress, Natick Town Meeting last week gave developers the
green light to plow under 26 years of emotional turmoil and construct in
the void a Ramada Inn and mall complex.
"It's the end of an era," sighs Miss
Nancy Clement, a drive-in employee for the past 15 years. "This has
been rumored for many years but now it looks like it's actually going to
happen. It's just a very sad day."
"It's where a lot of us grew up in some very important and some
not-so-important ways," says 28 year old Barry Walters of Westwood.
"A big part of adolescence is learning how to deal with the
opposite sex, and you learned pretty quick at the drive-in".
"I grew up at that drive-in," remembers Sudbury resident Ken
Perkins. "As a kid I'd jump into my pj's in the back of my parents
car and usually end up sleeping through the entire movie. "And
later, well,.. I did everything you're supposed to do. I saw at least 20
movies that I didn't see. "You'd sit there with a dirty windshield
covered with bugs listening to a 29-cent speaker that sounded like an
old AM radio that needed new batteries. But close the Natick Drive-In,
that's a sin."
The handwriting was on the wall, Miss Clement says, when the drinking
age was lowered to 18. "A lot of people started to go elsewhere.
This has always been the place to go to meet friends and not get
hassled, but that took away a lot of the crowds. "In its prime back
in the late '50's and early '60's, the Natick Drive-In would attract
100-300 cars a night in the wintertime and fill up to 1250 car capacity
on any clear weekend summer night. The drive-in still has its faithful
followers, but average wintertime crowds are down to 40-100 cars.
In the summertime, there are seldom more than two or three
sellouts a season. Instead of 100 speakers a week being stolen or ripped
to pieces, the number is 30, says employee Dave DeNorscia. And gone are
the days when at least a dozen poles a week were run over by preoccupied
teens and destroyed. You're lucky now if you can find two a week that
ends up under somebody's fender.
"Disney movies were a really big thing back in
the early '60's." says Miss Clement. "One or two parents would
bring in the whole neighborhood gang.
They'd set out blankets and lawn chairs. The kids would play on
the swings and slides and take rides on the boats and trains. "But
that was in the old days. The boats and trains are gone because they
just wore out and couldn't be replaced. The number of family movie
bookings has been cut in half. Remember
the weekend record hops? Up until about 1965, a local disc jockey played
the big rock and roll tunes of the day over the intercom on big weekend
nights. There were dance contests. And winners got free records. Men got
free cigars on Father's day, women got free candy on Mother's Day,
bicycles were raffled, and did you do with your 3-D glasses?
How about "spotty" the white dot that would flash
across the screen so all the cool guys with their brand new "77
Sunset Strip" style spotlights could get their cheap thrills trying
to zero in on it.
Gone too, is the carhop on Rte. 9 that used to
provide a ready-made excuse for drag racing down Rte. 30.Bill Edmunds
explains: "It was a
quarter mile straight away from the Mass Pike entrance to the
intersection of Rte 30 and Speen Street. If the cops saw you racing, you
just peeled up to Rte. 9 and into the Adventure Car Hop (now Natick
Dodge). By the time the cop caught up to you, you were just sitting
there in your car sipping on a coke looking like nothing was
Not everything has changed, of course. Sneaking in is still one of the
favorite pastimes of the drive-in's mostly teenage clientele, says Miss
Clement. "One kid recently got stuck in the car trunk he was hiding
in and drive-in employees had to pry him free. "And the still come
in droves over the back fence to meet up with buddies who have come in
alone and paid only for themselves. One interesting variation on the old
get-in-for-free game comes from Edmunds, a former Framingham resident.
"We would come in over the back fence, pick up stubs at the
concession stand, and just for the hell of it line up in one of the
parking spaces as if we were in a car. Someone from the drive-in would
come up to us and ask what we were doing there. We would show him our
ticket stubs and tell him we drove in."" I've heard every
excuse in the book when people get caught", smiles Miss Clement.
"But once, there was actually this couple that came up to the
ticket booth and thought it was the entrance to the Mass Pike. They
wanted to know which exit would take them to New York. "The most
kids that ever squeezed into a regular sized car was nine," she
remembered, "and they got a ticket for it. "Then there was the
girl not long ago who showed up with nothing on, clutching a pillow to
her chest." "The food hasn't changed much either in 26 years.
The hamburgers and pizzas still taste decent, as long as they haven't
been sunning themselves under those space lights for more than three
hours. The between-film movie they show to advertise all the good things
at the snack bar is changed periodically, but it still manages to make
everything that's supposed to be edible look like life from another
planet. "And just when the most important 10 seconds of the movie
is about to unfold, (that's assuming you're still watching the movie)
you can still count on a voice screeching over the intercom; "The
snack bar will be closed in 10 minutes." "The drive-in has
over the years meant many things to many people.
The bulldozers might not come until mid-summer. They could even
take a year to arrive. For those thousands who have "done
time" at the Natick Drive-In, at least the memories will linger.
For the uninitiated, there will only be the solace of now knowing what