At the drive-in

As the sun sets on Sutherland Springs, Bobby Peters sits outside his concession stand, sipping an ice-cold drink, looking out upon the field before him. Cars, loaded with occupants young and old, pack the horse-pasture-turned-drive-in-theater behind his family-operated steakhouse.

Peters has owned the OK Corral Steakhouse for 12 years, but just added the theater a few months ago. He credits a Texas Country Reporter segment about a similar drive-in in Granbury for the idea.

“My wife and kids, they’re movie nuts, so I decided to build them a movie-house,” says Peters.

Twenty-one drive-ins have closed in San Antonio in the last 46 years, according to, but new rural Texas theaters have been popping up steadily in the past few years. These entrepreneurs seem to be betting against the odds, but without an overhead from rent or A/C, the OK Corral Drive-In has been able to keep prices low and still turn a profit. Admission costs $5 per adult and $3 per child. Most nights Peter shows double features, unless the featured film is extremely long (i.e. Pirates 3).

The drive-in boasts a 30-by-60-foot mammoth screen and capacity for around 300 cars. It draws a regular crowd from Seguin, Floresville, China Grove, and surrounding small towns. Peters claims that if attendance rates keep up he may have to add a second screen by the end of summer.

According to, Texas once claimed nearly 400 drive-ins (today there are less than 500 nationally) and hosted one of the largest ever built, Lufkin’s 3,000-car Panther Drive-In. 2006 statistics from the United Drive-in Theatre Owners Association list only 17 remaining operational Texas drive-ins, with 28 screens among them.

The origin myths of Texas’s love affair with outdoor cinema are conflicted: credits Galveston’s Drive-In Short Reel Theatre as the first. The American Drive-in Movie Theatre, a book by Susan and Don Sanders, says differently, citing the Texas Drive-in Theatre in Corpus Christi as the Lone Star State’s premiere permanent “ozoner,” as they used to call ’em.

Regardless, by 1948 Texas drive-ins had multiplied to 88 total. In fact, between 1948 and 1954, drive-ins seemed to be putting indoor theaters out of business on a national level, resulting in a 130,000 indoor-screen decline, according to American Drive-in.

Like most public places, drive-ins were not exempt from segregation in the ’50s, especially in the South. American Drive-in points specifically to Dallas’s Star-Lite Drive-in as an example of a theater built for African-American patrons only.

In the 1960s drive-in revenue began to dwindle. Owners desperately tried to attract audiences, switching from family to teen, and later, adult audiences. No longer a “family-friendly” destination, the drive-in became a “passion pit,” the site of steamy backseat encounters. According to, the ’70 and ’80s proved merciless for the industry. Soaring real-estate prices, the invention of cable, and competition from indoor multiplexes brought the drive-in to near extinction.

“The land was worth more than the theater,” says Peters.

With a few exceptions, such as El Paso’s Fiesta Drive-In ­— which shows only skin flicks — today’s Texas drive-in theaters are primarily located in rural locations. “It’s in the small towns across the country that the drive-ins really seem to feel at home,” says The American Drive-in Movie Theatre, offering lack of other forms of entertainment and general appreciation for simple things as reasons why this is the case.

“Its just good fun like the ‘old days’ and our kids love it,” said third-time OK Corral visitor Mary Blincoe, surrounded by five youngsters. “Its great for the adults, kids, and the community.”

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