Although no one asked for it, here’s a story of one day’s drive-in theater research. This morning was a typical session, so I’ll share it with you while it’s still fresh on my mind. It’s my journey down a research rabbit hole, which began with finding the location of one dead drive-in and led to the unearthing of a second.
CinemaTreasures is a frequent stop along my online rounds. In particular, I like to see whether another CT user has added a previously unknown drive-in to its long list. So it was this morning; “50sSnipes” had contributed the short history of the Lafayette Drive-In in Lafayette LA. I read that the drive-in had been somewhere on US 90, that it opened sometime in 1947, and that it closed in 1955.
Because of my long experience with certain tools, I wanted to help find more details about the short-lived Lafayette so I could contribute them to CT. First, I tried the University of Colorado’s link to an online Boxoffice magazine database, but that didn’t turn up much. (It’s missing a lot of issues.) Next, I swung by HistoricAerials to look for unaccounted-for drive-ins in old aerial photos and topo maps. That’s where I spotted a drive-in about two miles west of Lafayette on US 90. That was promising!
Then I dug into my subscription at Newspapers.com. Those folks happened to carry old copies of Lafayette’s local newspaper, The Daily Advertiser, and a local historian had already highlighted the drive-in’s grand opening ad from June 1, 1947. Great! However, that ad clearly showed that the drive-in was three miles east of town on US 90.
I needed more information, so I turned to another great source, the Media History Digital Library hosted by the Internet Archive. Searching on the Lafayette Drive-In, I found the following snippet from The Exhibitor magazine, March 9, 1955:
“The Lafayette Drive-In, Lafayette, La., will close for good advised E. R. Sellers, one of the owners. Hub Drive-In Theatres, Inc., operators of two other drive-ins in that city, the Hub and Twin.”
The Twin already had an entry in the CT list, but not the Hub. That must have been that drive-in west of Lafayette! Now I had to look elsewhere for the Lafayette Drive-In, and to gather more info about the Hub.
Back to The Daily Advertiser. The first appearance of the Hub Drive-In was in 1948, but that was a drive-in restaurant serving cold beer and sandwiches. The first mention of the Hub Drive-In Theater was in a year-end ad, Dec. 30, 1949, saying that it was under construction. Long story short, the Hub opened on March 21, 1950 on the “Scott Road” (US 90 west of Lafayette). Its last ad in the Advertiser was on Oct. 22, 1956. A year later, the former Hub’s land was listed for sale in the classifieds.
That was enough to submit the Hub Drive-In to CinemaTreasures. Later, I found another magazine note, from Nov. 21, 1956, saying that the Hub was still closed “for rebuilding of the screen tower which was flattened during a severe wind storm.” I don’t know the date of that deadly (to the Hub at least) storm; I couldn’t find a matching story in the Advertiser.
Then back to HistoricAerials to find the Lafayette Drive-In, the reason I started down this rabbit hole in the first place. As I learned from topo maps, US 90 didn’t really go east out of Lafayette, it was more south-southeast. Once I knew which road to follow, I got lucky again. Three years after the Lafayette closed, it was still in pretty good shape in a 1958 aerial photo. After matching the site with a modern-day address, I was able to post a comment outlining the exact location, along with those open and close dates.
Why did I spend so much time tracking down two Louisiana drive-in stories? I can’t imagine ever using them in any of my books. Maybe it started with curiosity, and then I felt a sense of responsibility to put my notes in the hands of some future historian who might write a Louisiana drive-in book. It’s satisfying to learn something that no one (at least on CT) had known about before. And it feels good to feel the fresh air on my face when I finally emerge from one of those rabbit holes.