7940 Richmond Highway (US 1 south), Alexandria, Va.
capacity: 969 cars (in 1983)
years of operation: 1938-84
currently: 10-screen National Amusements multiplex (closed 2007)
The Washington area's first drive-in, built by Massachusetts-based E.M. Loew Theatres, debuted August 15, 1938 as E. M. Loew's Mt. Vernon Open Air Theatre; opening feature was the Claudette Colbert/Gary Cooper comedy Bluebeard's Eighth Wife. Originally rather primitive -- no in-car speakers before at least 1946, and the original snack bar was a candy and soft-drink stand set up next to the projection booth -- it was modernized in 1962 by new owners Redstone Drive-Ins (now National Amusements), which constructed a new screen tower and entrance. Twinned ("Red" screen, 371 cars, and "Blue" screen, 598 cars) in 1978.
"If this is the one I'm thinking of (at US 1 and Sherwood Hall Lane), an expressway was once planned to end where the drive-in was located. In 1969, a consultant to VDOT put together an expressway plan for the DC area which included a road called the Northern Virginia Expressway. It would have ended at US 1 and Sherwood Hall Road. Part of the interchange with US 1 would have been located where the drive-in once was. The drive-in is listed as one of the 'impacted' properties in the consultant's report. Needless to say, the expressway was never built, but it is interesting to note that a highway could have ended this drive-in a lot earlier than the causes that did close it." -- Mike Hale
"I just wanted to say I grew up going to this drive-in. I can remember one time in my 1959 Chevy having the trunk loaded up with about ten of my friends and only me inside as the driver of the car. I guess we thought the guy taking the 50 cents was stupid. He later said that he could hear laughter coming from inside of the trunk. We were all busted and made to pay." -- Bill Trefry (Groveton High School)
"Worked at the Mount Vernon DI [in 1981], with the new smaller screen backing up to Route 1, and a second one up the hill. The one I saw flix on when I lived up there in '71 and '72 was burned down by hobos, living under it, or so I was told. That original screen was a monster. I remember when we saw Chisum there, we all sat on the car hood, and were parked on the front row, and that enormous screen filled our complete field of vision. Chisum is loaded with slow zoom-out shots, and every time there was one, we kept jumping off the car, thinking that the brake had slipped and the car was backing down into the row behind us.
"Bit of history: Was told by the guy who installed the sound system in 1945 at the Mt. Vernon, that they rigged up four huge horns across the top of the screen, unfortunately wiring them in series. Of course the first night they were up, one went out, taking the rest with it. Hell of an opening!" -- Richard Webb
Click here to see a 1940 photo showing a lotful of cars viewing a movie on the original "shadowbox" screen.
Click here to see the 1983 USGS map depicting the
drive-in and surrounding area.
Below is a 1966 aerial photo of the Mt. Vernon.
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