Back in 1954, a Drive-In Opened in Rhinelander

May 11, 2018

Every Friday, we'll turn back the clock on Morning Edition with local historian Gary Entz to find out what life in the Northwoods used to be like. This is part of a new initiative by WXPR to tell the history and culture of northern Wisconsin.

On July 2, 1954, the citizens of Rhinelander were able to enjoy what was billed as “the last word in theater engineering.”

On that night in 1954 the Rouman Drive-In Theater in Rhinelander opened its gates to the public.  With larger than average window speakers, a projection room featuring water-cooled Century projection heads with high fidelity Ashcraft lamps, and a 40x74 foot screen capable of showing the new wide-screen Vista-Vision films, Rhinelander could boast of having one of the finest drive-in movie facilities in the state.  Oh yes, the snack bar was state of the art too, with the latest and most modern in dispensing equipment and restrooms conveniently located inside the concession building.

People loved the idea of the drive-in theater, and plans were to show a double-feature every night of the week.  Movie patrons said they liked the convenience of being able to go see a movie without having “to get dressed up.”  They enjoyed being able to take small children along without having to pay for a babysitter.  And on top of that, many took note of the privilege of being able to smoke while watching the movie.

What were the films shown on opening night?  An overflow crowd came for the grand opening with those who came too late to get an entry ticket parked alongside either side of the road hoping to see, if not hear, the films.  The movies on opening night were “Rodeo,” starring Jane Nigh and John Archer.  The second billing was “Flight to Mars,” starring Marguerite Chapman and Cameron Mitchell.

Gary Entz is a historian who lives in Rhinelander, with a passion for all things in the past. We'll have new episodes of WXPR's "A Northwoods Moment in History" every Friday morning.

"A Northwoods Moment in History" is funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Wisconsin Humanities Council supports and creates programs that use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone in Wisconsin.

Music for this commentary came Podington Bear and the Free Music Archive. Sound effects for this commentary came from Freesound.