Raleigh Road Outdoor Theatre

 

What do you get when you combine a nice car with a great film? If New Jersey auto-salesman Richard Hollingstead could answer, he might say, “The ultimate business venture!”

In 1933, Hollingstead discovered the formula that would come to be known as the drive-in movie theatre. The first ever theatre of its kind appeared in Camden, N.J., and by 1958 the number of drive-in movie theaters had reached 4,063 in the U.S. 

It wasn’t until the 1970s when drive-in theatres saw a huge decline. Today, less than 400 drive-ins are currently operating in the U.S., and only six  are open in North Carolina, according to Drivins.com. One of these theatres is located in Henderson, just a short drive away.

According to Craig Askew, a 10-year employee, Raleigh Road Outdoor Theatre opened in 1949 as the Moon-Glo Outdoor Theatre. The first movie to premier was “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.” The original owner, a Mr. Stevenson, sold the theater to the Lyles family of Henderson in the 1970s. Stevenson’s only request upon selling the theatre was that the new owners change the name. The Lyles changed the theatre name to what it is today. The neon “Moon-Glo” sign hung above the screen until the 1980s. Currently, the theatre is owned and operated by Mark and Jennifer Frank, who bought the theatre from Jim and Megan Kopp in December of 2011.

“It’s a great piece of local history that is still going strong,” Askew said. “I’m very proud of it.”

Today, the theatre offers a large screen for showing first-run films and a parking area for about 265 cars where people can watch movies from the comfort of their own vehicles or spread out with a couple of chairs and blankets. (Be sure to bring a good portable radio to pick up the sound if you’re sitting outside.) Most movie nights are double features, meaning guests buy one ticket and stay for two movies. 

“It’s a blast! We play games at intermission and give away prizes,” Askew said. “Giving kids prizes and seeing their smiles is very rewarding.”

The ticket book opens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, and at 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Movies start at dusk, or about 9 p.m. this time of year. There is a playground for children and a concession building filled with a variety of entrees, sides, popcorn, drinks and sweet treats for guests to enjoy. 

According to Askew, the theatre underwent some needed upgrades recently. The concession stand was replaced with a concession building capable of serving up to four lines, a bigger kitchen and more restrooms. The new concession building opened just last month. 

“We are making upgrades as we get the funding for other projects,” Askew said. “The playground is next on our list.”

Hebert Davis, 67, a resident of Henderson recalled his earliest memories of the drive-in. 

“In the beginning, the drive-in was the only form of entertainment. It was mostly westerns and cartoons. I remember falling asleep during the love movies and waking up in time for the cartoons. I was about 6 years old then,” he said.

Warren Record Facebook follower Kendra Pierce of Vaughan discovered Raleigh Road Outdoor Theatre last year thanks to pictures taken there by Amy Matthews.

“I couldn’t believe we lived so close and had never heard of it. Now we’ve been well over 10 times,” Pierce said. “We prefer it to a regular theater. From their playground for the kids to the grill options for dinner, they have figured out the way to make adults and children happy!”

No matter the age, Raleigh Road Outdoor Theatre holds value in the community. Whether it is remembered as the Moon-Glo or Raleigh Road, this outdoor theatre promises to be a unique experience for the whole family.  

Raleigh Road Outdoor Theatre is at 3336 Raleigh Rd., Henderson. For more information, call 252-438-6959 or visit the website at raleighroaddrivein.com.

Kaelyn Martin is a summer intern at The Warren Record.