Drive-in theaters were a staple of American popular culture during the mid-twentieth century. According to the New York Film Academy, more than 4,000 drive-ins dotted the landscape during the 1950s and 1960s, particularly in rural locations. By the 1970s and 1980s, smaller automobiles, the emergence of the VCR, and other factors like the rising value of the land where drive-ins were located gradually ate away at this beloved cinematic experience. Although the number of drive-ins dropped to just over 300 in recent years, they didn’t disappear completely, and the popularity of outdoor cinema has surged during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although this pictured location in The Dalles may be gone, the M-F Drive-In Theater in Milton Freewater is in its seventh decade of business, and the La Grande Drive-In has been in operation since 1951. Closer to Portland, many outdoor screening options are available this year: Among others, 99-W Drive-In has been screening in Newberg since 1953 (with a screen salvaged from a closed Portland drive-in), and the Northwest Film Center’s Rooftop Cinema at Lloyd Center is showing multiple films every week through September 30 on Portland’s east side.
—Julia Dolan, The Minor White Curator of Photography
Dan Powell (American, born 1950), The Dalles, Oregon, 1989, gelatin silver print, Gift of the artist, 91.36