Look closely and you’ll see a glimpse of the past. Photo: September 1, 2017.
Shore Drive-In, Ocean City, MD.
Check out the link for the marquee minus the foliage!
Our Visit (November 2014):
We love to take day-trips and have surprise date days. One of these took us to Assateague Island State Park and Ocean City, Maryland. As always, I saw an opportunity to visit an abandoned drive-in! In this case it was Ocean City’s Shore Drive-In Theatre, a couple miles off the island.
There was a bit of traffic, but we knew the general area of the marquee. After we parked an got out on foot to explore, I couldn’t help but think about the tourists visiting Ocean City. Hundreds – maybe more – passed the marquee covered in tangled weeds and plants without a second glance.
Red, green, and white stripes were still visible along the 2 sides of the marquee, but the rest was mere rusted metal. Where words once announced the featured films, only bars remained. Looking underneath, you can see the wires and connections that once held bright white lights to illuminate the marquee.
Beyond the marquee there was so much more to be seen! Even after almost 40 years, nature, the elements, and vandals could not completely destroy visible remnants of the drive-in.
Various building pieces remained – a wooden structure that lay crumbled on its side, the ticket booth, speaker poles with torn bases, and the screen. The screen is always my favorite piece of a drive-in that has been left behind. Their resilience amazes me.
The screen held a large lattice of wooden pieces as the backing. Larger slats of wood lay across the lattice horizontally where the movies once shone. Vines and trees intertwined with the lattice. My favorite piece of the screen was the ladder in the back, against one of the wooden poles, leading to the screen.
Everything was very overgrown, but it was manageable to navigate. As always – be careful, be considerate, and do not leave any physical imprint.
The Shore Drive-In Theatre opened in 1954 and lasted for 22 years, closing in 1976. The Salisbury Times has advertisements starting in 1954 through ’76. In March of 1956, the Baltimore Sun reported that the court ruled the drive-in must be closed on Sundays.
Besides this bit of information, I could not find the owners/operators of the theatre, why it closed, or the types of movies it ran. Several people online reported that there was a flea market on the property after it closed. The property is currently for sale as a commercial property, listed for $800,000.
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:
My Visit – 8/10/13:
We had decided to take a day to head south a bit to the Baltimore area. My goal this drive-in season was to visit at least 2 open/operating drive-in theaters in addition to Delsea, and there is a theater right outside Baltimore (a later post!). On the way there, we made a stop at the former Bel-Air Churchville Drive-In Theatre in Churchville, MD.
A few miles off the highway, the drive-in was easy to locate. The marquee remains with the drive-in name partially readable and a large space used for advertisements.
The front area, which used to be a restaurant, is now a garden center (named Big M Garden Center, an ode to the former restaurant “Big M”). A chain-link fence labeled “Beware of Dog” and “Private Property” separates the garden center and drive-in site.
We approached the young men at the garden center to get some information and see if we could get some photos. We found out they only recently acquired the land for their business and cleaned out a lot of old materials from the restaurant (darn it – that would have been cool to see those artifacts!). They said the asphalt business that is on the drive-in site had been facing theft recently and suggested to get permission directly. Luckily, the awesome owner of the garden center walked back with us and one of the guys on the site said we could snap a few photos of the remaining features.
The screen is almost completely gone – small, rectangular panes are all that remains, leaving a zigzag pattern of a screen. Not wanting to impose, I didn’t walk through the brush towards the screen, but there did not seem to be any speaker poles left.
The projection booth/restrooms remain in a dilapidated condition, as well as the concession stand (back of the restaurant). You can still see some of the labels for the bathroom and the name of the drive-in.
Projection Booth/ Restrooms:
There is also some grading left for the driving/parking for the theatre, but nothing overly noticeable.
Attached to the restaurant is the former ticket booth. It was probably really neat to pull up to the window for your tickets and drive on in to watch the movies.
The Bel-Air Churchville Drive-In Theatre opened in 1952, with the capacity for 400 cars. The drive-in also operated the Big M restaurant, where servers would deliver food to your car while on roller-skates!
In the article, “A Bel Air landmark that time passed by,” Josh Mitchell addresses the closing of the drive-in and restaurant, covering many details of the rise-and-fall of the drive-in (The Baltimore Sun, 2005). John Manuel was the original owner of the 11 acre drive-in, but sold to Robert Wagner in 1989. In 1999 the Zelman couple bought into ownership, becoming partners with Wagner. Four years later, Wagner sold the property to the Ferrell family. The theatre and restaurant continued to rent the land from the Ferrell family until 2005. At that point, they could no longer afford to pay the rent. The decline in attendance and income began in 1994 and became unbearable by 2005.
The Bel-Air was lax on rules, allowing food to be brought in without a charge and pets were welcome. Both the drive-in and restaurant had prominent signs on Route 22, drawing in attention and motorists.
The next closest drive-in that is still operating is Bengies DI outside of Baltimore, in Middle River, MD. To give you an idea of the number of drive-ins within a reasonable driving distance, here is a list of a few theatre’s (name, location, and years of operation). The first four succumbed to the closing timeframe of most drive-ins, closing in the 70s and 80s.
Harford DI – Aberdeen, MD 1953-1973
Carlin’s DI – Baltimore, MD 1958 -1977
North Point DI – Dundalk, MD 1948-1982
Pulaski DI – White Marsh, MD 1950s – 1985
Bengies DI – Middle River, MD 1956-present
Side Note: The owners and employees of the Big M Garden Center were very courteous, helpful, and interested in the history of the place. If you live in the area make sure to stop and browse – they have a nice selection!
Bel-Air Churchville Drive-In
3035 Churchville Road