Starlight Drive-In Theatre
Photo from the Darren Snow collection
3500 College Ave|
|Record #10076 |
Opened: May 5, 1950|
Closed: October 14, 1984
Demolished: Yes (date unknown)
Current Organ: none
| Also Known As: |
Information for this tour was contributed by Darren Snow.
OPENED: 5/5/50; "Sitting Pretty." CLOSED: 1984. DEMOLISHED. CAPACITY: 600 / 485/ 960. CONSTRUCTION: Johnson Construction. LANDSCAPING: Edwin H. Burns. SIGN: Maguire Signs. DECOR: Gene Sawyer.
The Starlight was listed in the 1949 Theatre Catalog, but ground wasn’t broken until the following year, and the opening date was May 5, 1950. A newspaper article at the time claimed that the drive-in had parking for 600, but longtime employee Glenn Ballard later recalled that the theatre started with 400 stalls, and the capacity grew to 960 when a second screen was added (it was in place by 1977). This number was cut back to 800 when a new concession stand and playground (right under the main screen) were added. He also noted that there was a long, long line of customers to see "Bridge on the River Kwai" for 50c a head. The original owners were Harry H. Beck of the "now-demolished" (it’s not) State Theatre and Joe Goldfarb, who ran the Uptown. The BAC chain assumed control in 1953 (according to the Alton Telegraph; BAC’s Steve Bloomer says 1950), and ran the drive-in until its demise. Ballard was listed in the Alton directory as the Starlight’s manager from 1961 to 1973 -- assuming that he was also known as Jesse G. Ballard, which is how the manager was listed starting in 1966. Don Rawls managed the drive-in from 1974 to 1984.
In summer 1984, St. Louis landowner-developer Donald Soffer sold the 19-acre property to a local doctors’ group, Alton Multi-specialists, headed by Drs. Chester Hill and Phillip Kannel. Soffer had pledged that the drive-in would remain as long as he owned the land, and Steve Bloomer of BAC hoped that the doctors would let the drive-in continue to operate on at least part of the land for a while longer. "I have absolutely no comment to make," huffed Dr. Hill. The docs planned to bulldoze the ozoner and subdivide the land for construction of more medical buildings. The Starlight’s last manager, Charles Myers, conceded that the drive-in was "very definitely closing, but who knows for sure of the actual time?"
The Alton Telegraph asked a few random folks-on-the-street for their thoughts on the Starlight’s impending doom. Sad-faced, fiftyish William Woodard lamented, "I hate to see anything close. Too many things are going broke already." Ronda Sullivan of Jerseyville grinned out from behind her jumbo-sized spectacles and shrugged "I’ve never been to the drive-in, so I guess it’s alright." Of course it is, Ronda. It’s all about you, girlfriend.
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Last featured 3/15/2004. Last edited 3/26/2017.