My Visit – August 10, 2013:
The Baltimore area is a fun place to visit, and once we found out about Bengies we decided to take a trip down. Luckily I did some research ahead of time because there are many rules for this particular drive-in.
One major thing you need to know about Bengies is they have a NO PHOTO policy anywhere on the property.
We arrived early and parked nearby. We walked around the property to get a feel for the size and a glimpse of what we would see later that night. I did snap some photos from the outside, mainly because I wanted to share an image to show the screen size.
As you enter the drive-in, you will immediately notice the barrage of signs warning you of the various rules for the property. It was a bit intimidating and overwhelming – one of those times where you feel guilty even though you are completely innocent! I knew there would be signs ahead of time, thanks to Mod Betty and retroroadmap.com (blog post: http://retroroadmap.com/spot/its-drive-in-movie-season-maryland-new-york-and-pennsylvania/, specific picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/modbetty/4630018820/).
Entering the theater grounds (aside from the signs) is very pleasant. Besides the ticket booth, there was also a greeter near the concession stand, directing cars and wishing them a good night at the drive-in.
We parked in the center and a few rows back from the screen. The concession stand was very busy, with two sides servicing customers. The food was good; nothing sticks out as being an amazing food choice. They have a lot of merchandise for sale, which made me excited to add to my t-shirt collection. Unfortunately they did not have my top 2 choices and I had to settle for my 3rd choice. I waited awhile for service to buy the t-shirt, since I had to go to a separate register from the food line. Also, the workers behind the counter weren’t visibly happy. At all. Everyone seemed hurried and distracted.
Bengies shows three movies, starting with the lowest rated. So we watched Smurfs 2, followed by Grown Ups 2. Due to our drive home we did not stay for movie #3. I was disappointed because Grown Ups 2 was listed as the third movie in the program, but the marquee had it listed as #2…
Several things about this theater bothered me, one being the talking over the credits. As soon as the end music and credits began, there was a person talking over the movie giving announcements. I found it distracting, unnecessary, and pushy for it to immediately begin at the credits. He (the announcer) also repeatedly mentions the rules during these announcements.
In-between the 2 movies, we turned the car on to keep the battery from fading. Honestly, I do not understand how this works or why, but it is something Dan has taught me and we always do at Delsea for a couple minutes. Immediately, a worker came over and told us to turn off the car to prevent CO2 emissions. Hm.
Overall, I am glad we visited Bengies – it has a large screen, vintage memorabilia and cars, kind greeters, a playground for children, and is one of the last drive-ins in the area. However, I don’t need to go back to this one. I feel it was more profit-based instead of maximizing the experience of the drive-in. Since visiting several other drive-ins, I prefer the latter.
According to bengies.com, the theatre opened on June 6, 1956. They just closed their 58th season running – quite incredible! Three brothers named Jack, Paul, and Hank Vogel built the theater. Jack Vogel was the architect and designed this theater, as well as several others in the US. Interestingly, the drive-in was named after Benjamin Harrison (former president) because the area used to be known as Bengies, MD. D. Edward Vogel is the current owner and operator of the drive-in.
The screen is 52′ x 120′ and Bengies quotes itself as having the biggest screen in the USA. I have found a contradiction to this statement, since the Capri Drive-In (Coldwater, MI) lists its screen as 150’ x 75’.
The current marquee is not the original. The first marquee had an apostrophe between the e and s. There is a story about the apostrophe, which can be found in the City Paper link below. The current marquee was put up in the 1970s and did not use the apostrophe. Speakers were present up until at least 1998.
Information regarding the original builders, name, and marquee come from a 1998 article in the Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/movies/features/bengiesfacts.htm.
Interesting tid-bits about Bengies:
- The drive-in was up for sale in 1998 – obviously it did not sell since it is the same owner as 1998. I wasn’t able to find any information after 1998 regarding this possible sale (http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1998-05-28/entertainment/1998148113_1_bengies-jack-vogel-drive-in-theater, http://www.csmonitor.com/1998/0805/080598.feat.feat.5.html, ).
- In 2004, there was a zoning process occurring, during which Vogel wanted to expand the theater to include a 2nd screen and miniature golf (http://archives.explorebaltimorecounty.com/news/6077195/bengies-owner-writes-new-script/).
- In 2012 the Baltimore Sun reported that Bengies won a lawsuit against Royal Farms for quite a hefty sum. The lawsuit dealt with lighting interference from a Royal Farms built in 2003. (http://benstorming.com/2012/07/02/bengies-drive-in-still-alive-after-winning-suit/)
- Additional, very detailed background information can be found through this article: http://www2.citypaper.com/story.asp?id=11875.