Whitesburg Drive-In Theater

Whitesburg Drive-In Theater.
Whitesburg Drive-In Theater

One of the most memorable areas that I've metal detected was an old drive-in movie theater. I was stationed at Redstone Arsenal, (Huntsville) Alabama at the time. The theater was located on Highway 231 South (Memorial Parkway). Under the screen was a trailer where the groundskeeper lived. One day while he was out front mowing the lawn I stopped by and inquired about hunting the playground area in front of the screen. During the conversation I learned that the drive-in was built in 1949 and had been detected by other hunters. However, business was slow and the drive-in was now in the process of closing down for good. Permission was granted to metal detect so I parked inside the theater and concentrated on the playground located directly in front of the screen.

The playground was approximately 150 feet wide and about 30 feet deep. In the front were two chair swings on either side of a cement pad (use unknown). In front of the cement pad was a see-saw and beyond that a merry-go-round. On the left was another merry-go-round and a swing set. On the right was another swing set and in the middle toward the back was a slide playhouse. All of the equipment looked its age. It is hard to remember exactly where I found all of the coins. I kept accurate records of the drive-in and to this day only remember digging up one of the coins...a Ben Franklin half dollar. I only hunted in the playground as most of the area where the patrons would park and watch the movies was paved over. I was using a White's 5000-D metal detector at the time (I still have it).

The date was March 3, 1980. I found 2 silver Washington quarters, 1 Standing Liberty quarter (1929-S), 3 Mercury dimes, 4 silver Roosevelt dimes, 30 wheat pennies, 46 new pennies, 7 clad dimes, 4 nickels, 4 quarters, and 1 silver ring. It was a good day of detecting and I had the entire area to myself. I made plans to return the following week.

On March 8, 1980 I detected the playground again. Coins were popping out of the ground like the previous hunt. That day I found 1 silver Washington quarter, 3 Mercury dimes, 2 silver Roosevelt dimes, 18 wheat pennies (one was a 1909), 8 clad dimes, 1 nickel, 25 new pennies and another silver ring. The drive-in was starting to become a very productive site.

On March 10, 1980 I hit the playground again but coins were starting to thin out somewhat. I managed to pull up 1 silver Washington quarter, 1 Mercury dime, 1 silver Roosevelt dime, 5 wheat pennies, 1 clad dime and 5 new pennies. All in all it was still a good day. Could there still be more coins hiding in the playground?

I found out the answer on March 11, 1980. Yes! Coins were still sparse but I did find 2 more Mercury dimes, 2 silver Roosevelt dimes, 6 wheat pennies, 2 clad dimes, 2 nickels, and 12 pennies. Looks like things were closing down in the coin department too.

I had to pull a short tour of duty at Fort Hood, Texas. At the time I was a Meteorological Observer in research and development. It was a great job and I really enjoyed that type of work. When the tour was up I went on a 30 day leave (vacation) back to Pennsylvania. I guess I'm trying to say it was a few months before I got to go back to the drive-in. Surely, there had to be more coins.

A big change occurred while I was gone. The screen burned down some time during May of 1980. All of the playground equipment was now gone and the lot had been bulldozed over. On August 10, 1980 I hit the vacant playground again. The one coin I remember finding after 19 years is the Ben Franklin half dollar I found under the see-saw. After hitting the area 4 times, I still missed a rather large coin. That is why it pays off to hit an area time and time again. When the day was done I ended up with the 1954 B.F. half dollar, 2 Mercury dimes, 3 silver Roosevelt dimes, 1 silver war nickel, 6 wheat pennies, 1 clad dime and 5 new pennies.

September 7, 1980 would be my last visit to Whitesburg drive-in. It was a sad feeling knowing that the end of an era was coming to a close. The movies had not played for some time now and the screen and playground were gone. No more children to laugh and play on the swing sets. No more parents watching the children and discussing current events. All gone, just memories now. I ended the day with 2 Mercury dimes, 2 silver Roosevelt's, 8 wheat pennies, 2 clad dimes and 7 new pennies.

Whitesburg drive-in was undoubtedly a great place to metal detect. I found a total of 239 coins with a face value of $9.68. $4.50 of that was in silver. Recent correspondence with metal detecting buddy Robert Hoard in Huntsville tells me that the entire place is now Whitesburg Shopping Center. Bob Hope said it the best, "thanks for the memories."

Newspaper advertisement for Whitesburg Drive-In (the movie came out in 1947).

History of Whitesburg Drive-In Theater

The Whitesburg Drive-In Theater, Huntsville's first drive-in, was opened June 16, 1949. This theater is located one-half mile south of Huntsville on Whitesburg Drive and is owned and operated by Acme Investments, Incorporated, whose stockholders are Walton Fleming, president; Martha Fleming, vice-president; and Charles A. Crute, secretary-treasurer.

In keeping with company policy, the latest type of equipment is maintained. The screen size was increased in 1954 to 100 x 40 feet to accommodate both wide-screen and cinemascope attractions. Just prior to that time, playground equipment was installed in front of the screen and is available free of charge to patrons. The Whitesburg Drive-In Theater has a modern, fully-equipped snack bar. Mr. Robert Ross, who manages the theater, is also manager of the snack bar.

This theater, as can be seen by the picture above, is one of the most beautiful open-air theaters to be found in America.

Photo and information provided by Craig E. Parsons.