Pop Culture: L.A.’s First Drive-In Opened on Pico Boulevard in 1934

Flashback: L.A.’s First Drive-In Opened on Pico Boulevard in 1934

Courtesy of Huntington Digital Library
Opening night of Drive-In Theatre (later Pico Drive-In Theatre) on Sept. 9, 1934.

The drive-in movie theater, which is enjoying a resurgence amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, did not originate in Los Angeles.

That honor goes to Camden, New Jersey, where the world’s first opened June 6, 1933 — the patented brainchild of Richard Hollingshead, son of an auto parts dealer. But L.A. was quick to pick up on the trend, and on Sept. 9, 1934, what was originally known simply as “Drive-In Theatre” (it was renamed Pico Drive-In Theatre in 1943) opened its gates at the corner of Pico and Westwood boulevards, where a bean field previously stood and where the Westside Pavilion shopping mall now stands.

Designed by architect Clifford Balch (who created several landmark theaters including the El Rey), it was the country’s fourth such “ozoner,” as drive-ins were colloquially referred to. The first film to screen there was the 1934 Fox hit Handy Andy (best remembered for a scene in which star Will Rogers dances at a costume ball dressed as Tarzan). Admission was 35 cents a car (which amounts to $7 in 2020) — not a bad deal for a first-run picture. The screen was 60 feet wide by 40 feet high and made of wood, covered in canvas and painted a flat white. Capacity was 487 cars, each spaced on a grid about 3 feet apart. The staff numbered about 30, several of whom just ran around cleaning windshields.