Emmet St. (US 29 north) at Hydraulic Rd., Charlottesville, Va.
capacity: 295 cars
years of operation: 1950-79
Operated by Richmond-based Neighborhood Theatres.
A 1966 aerial photo of the Ridge Drive-In and vicinity. Note the winding entranceway down the sharp slope to the ticket booth. To the north and south, the K mart and the US 250 bypass have already been built.
These 1974 photos of a still-vital Ridge (the first depicting the marquee) come courtesy of Richard Webb, a former projectionist there.
"...we never had a house intro at the Ridge, just the standard circles of color, used as an inside gag recently in Grindhouse and other Tarantino flix. Our countdown at the Ridge was the Ten Little Indians one, perhaps you are familiar with it." -- Richard Webb
"Thank you, Richard Webb, for your fantastic pics of the Ridge. Such a shared collection is what I cherish most about drive-in web sites. While I never got to attend the Ridge, I did ride by it twice when I was 8. In June 1976, my family and I were heading down 29 on our way over to West Virginia. Rooster Cogburn and The Towering Inferno filled the marquee. We rode by again a month later where, this time, a double-dose of Disney (No Deposit, No Return and Treasure Island) had me wishing our vacation destination could be delayed a day. I distinctly remember the eye-catching, richly-orange marquee tower. Even though I never saw the theater again after those two drive-bys, I've never forgotten it, especially when watching any of the movies listed above (with The Seven-Ups now a part of that list, thanks to your pics). As projectionist, are you able to recall some of the intermission films you ran (if any), and did you have a particular favorite? Also, was there ever a pre-show cartoon to kick off the night? Which usually ran first, the co-feature or the main attraction? It seems like the Ridge booked mostly second and third-run fare in its last few years. Did it ever nab any first-run blockbusters and if not, is that what led to the theater's closing in 1979? I'm sure I speak for others, Richard, when I say that any other photos or scanned memorabilia of the Ridge which you may possess and are willing to post would be greatly appreciated. Long live the Ridge!" -- Alan Beauvais
Well, Alan, here's something I think you'll enjoy (again, thanks to Richard Webb): a collection of Ridge flyers from 1972.
"The Ridge Drive-in closed in the late 1970s because owner Bob Bencoach sold the property. Most of it became a Kroger grocery store, the rest a Virginia ABC store. Both are still there.
"The drive-in opened sometime before I came to town in 1955. Another web site's line that it opened in the 1960s is incorrect.
"Bencoach invested his drive-in proceeds in humanity. He was a local bail bondsman for many years. After he sold the property he opened the 'Little Pigs' barbecue on US 250 West near Food of All Nations. Made on the premises and served chopped, minced and sliced, it was (this BBR fan's opinion) the best pig ever served in Charlottesville, and that includes the above average ones now operating here in 2010.
"An overfed, rotund, roly-poly Bob died several months after starting his business. No one carried on, so the 'Little Pigs' folded." -- Rey Barry, Charlottesville DJ 1957-61
"Loved seeing the photos of the Ridge Drive-In. Such memories! I wasn’t surprised to see that someone remembered my Dad, but he seems to be mixed up in memory with someone else. (I’m not sure who.)
"Bob Bencoach was not long out of the military (having served as a hospital corpsman in the Navy during WWII and Korea) and working as a truck driver (out of Raleigh?) when his truck broke down in Charlottesville. It took a couple days to get back on the road, and everyone was so nice to him that he would later say that he resolved then and there to move to Charlottesville the next time he was between jobs. When he came back, he visited the Young Men’s Shop on East Main Street and the proprietor put him in a new suit to go on interviews, reportedly just on a promise to pay him when he was working. My Dad-to-be quickly landed the part-time job as manager of the Ridge Drive-In in 1953, and held that position until he left town in 1965. He never owned the Ridge. Yes, he was 'An overfed, rotund, roly-poly.' He later moved to Richmond, and died there in 1985.
"Yes, he was also a bail bondsman. And an insurance adjuster. And, in the mid/late 1950s, an Albemarle County Justice of the Peace (appointed because the deputies needed someone in that part of the county who stayed up late at night). He performed all those part-time jobs from his office at Ridge Drive-In.
"(UVA law student Teddy Kennedy was hauled in front of him twice, in the middle of the night, for drunk and reckless driving. And former Sheriff George Bailey told me about an incident, when he was a deputy, and brought in a driver caught speeding on Rt. 29, along with his passenger. Both men had been particularly reticent about providing their names. The driver finally showed Deputy Bailey his license, and was revealed to be actor Hugh O’Brien. His passenger was Elvis’ Colonel Parker!)
"In the late 1950s, my Dad moved to the Atlanta area to enroll in night school – Atlanta Law School – eventually earning his law degree. But he never practiced. And the entire time, he was working days in Atlanta (insurance adjusting) and 'commuting' by rail to Charlottesville weekends during the Drive-in operating season. In the early 1960s he bought Arthur’s Grill, on E. Main, and later also had some involvement with another restaurant a few blocks west called The Shack.
"I was 5 when my Dad left town. Until then, I’d never had to pay admission at a theatre in Charlottesville, whether it was part of Neighborhood Theatres or not. I knew everyone working at every theatre in town, and remember going to see films 'on my own' (but doubtless with many eyes watching over me), most often visiting the Jefferson on E. Main while my Dad was working at the restaurant. I’d just wave and say 'hello' and the staff would wave back with 'Hello, Rosanna' and I’d walk right in! I specifically recall seeing Bambi at the Jefferson, five afternoons in a row.
"As for movies at the Ridge Drive-In, unless the film was particularly well-suited to a 3-4-5 year old, I usually fell asleep while watching from the office porch, and was carried home afterwards. In later years, I would see many films and remember having seen the beginning before, but little else. The experience was particularly strong when my Mother took me to the Paramount to see Gone With the Wind (in rerelease) for the first time. I immediately remembered previously seeing the title letters 'blowing' across the screen, the opening scenes, and the opening music… but the feeling of déjà vu didn’t extend past the picnic scene." -- Rosanna Bencoach
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or some pictures or stories about this drive-in
you'd like to share? Email me -- thanks!