There’s nothing like spending an evening curled up with a blanket under the open sky at the drive-in movie theatre. At least, there is nothing else like it in Abilene.
The Town and Country Twin Drive-In Movie Theatre, located on Vogel Street and Mockingbird Lane, is the only one of its kind left in Abilene and one of only 385 drive-in theatres remaining in the United States.
Established in 1956, the Town and Country is still inviting students and families to enjoy a movie under the stars almost sixty years later, and it plans to do so as long as the Abilene community welcomes it.
The drive-in has a long history of providing classic family entertainment in a unique venue, creating a fun experience for movie-lovers across the country. The first drive-in opened in Camden, N.J., in 1933, but Texas soon followed, opening its first outdoor theatre in Galveston in 1934. By 1958, 4,000 drive-ins had sprung up around the country.
Now, digital cinema is taking over, technology is changing and with Monday Night Football on TV, drive-in locations have dwindled over the years. However, even if this classic form of entertainment isn’t as popular as it was in the ’50s, it has made a comeback in the last decade. Texas is now in the lead for the number of drive-ins per capita.
The Town and Country Drive-In Theatre closed in the late ’90s, along with seven other local drive-ins, when businesses began buying up the open land around the theatres for building projects. In fact, Town and Country got its name because it was located on the outskirts of town, toward the country.
Ray Andress came to town in 2000 with a lifetime of experience in the movie theatre business and intentions of reopening and renovating the last standing drive-in theatre in Abilene.
“When word first spread that a drive-in was reopening in Abilene, we got lots of phone calls and people coming out to see,” Andress said, owner of the Town and Country. “People just couldn’t believe it. They had no idea that this isn’t something new and original; this has been around.”
Now, the Town and Country is a hidden gem among Abilene’s movie theatre venues. Andress’ theatre offers a classic pasttime at an affordable price year-round, with two screens that play double features every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night and room for 700 cars in each lot.
“There is so much nostalgia with the drive-in,” Andress said. “Although the trend seems to have skipped a generation, there are still those reminiscent feelings associated with drive-in movies that draw both an older and younger crowd.”
Those who share this nostalgic love of drive-in theatres should come to the Town and Country, if only to have a conversation with the manager and ticket-booth vendor, Bruce Lacoste. Lacoste proudly claims to be a “drive-in fanatic” with a boundless knowledge of drive-in trivia and a vast collection of outdoor theatre memorabilia.
“I like to say he must have been dropped once at a drive-in,” Andress said with a laugh. Lacoste, who also has an extensive history with theatres, says drive-ins are his passion, and it’s hard to stop talking about it.
“The drive-in is for everyone,” Lacoste said. “You can bring your mom, dad, kids, cats and dogs.” To emphasize that everyone is welcome, Lacoste is prepared at his ticket-booth with a box of pet treats every weekend.
“The drive-in theatre is about freedom,” Andress said. He said that although outdoor theatres have been called many things, including the “passion pit” – his words – of the theatre industry, their family-friendly reputation has been restored.
“Everybody’s comfortable in their car,” he said. “We have college students that bring their sofas in the back of their truck, come in groups and say, ‘Hey, let’s meet at the drive-in.'”
Andress and Lacoste said many things affect the drive-in business, including weather and the seasons, students leaving after the school year and its location.
“The problem with Abilene is that we aren’t in the best of locations, being in this part of town,” Andress said. He said since the drive-in is tucked away in a corner of Abilene, many people are unaware it is even there or are wary of the neighborhood.
“The railroad track divides the North from the South; it’s kind of like the civil war days,” he said. “There are a lot of people just afraid to come over here, but we don’t have problems over here at all.”
Of course, football has a large effect on business as well – only because it’s Texas, he said.
“There’s a time of the year when people become hermits,” Andress said. He said business drops considerably during football season and doesn’t pick up until it ends.
To compensate, Andress is offering a different Texas favorite: barbecue.
“We’re also just trying to do something that’s kind of Texas,” Andress said. “And that’s barbecue.”
Andress said he smokes his own meat for chopped beef sandwiches and serves them in his 1950s diner-themed concession stand, along with other entrees, candy and refreshments. “I want to put out some good products, and barbecue is my best.”
Admission only covers the cost for the theatre to purchase rights to a movie, so the concession stand is necessary to make a profit. For that reason, Andress said he likes to provide snacks his visitors will enjoy.
“We want to bring economical entertainment and food, and I don’t mean junk food, either,” he said. Andress offers a $10 “movie and dinner” special every weekend, which includes a double feature ticket and barbecue dinner, complete with beans, chips and potato salad, all for one reasonable price.
The theatre offers other specials throughout the year. Summer specials include an all-night campout; for $10, anyone can bring a tent and watch an all-night movie marathon. Andress is also planning student specials this semester to draw the college crowd, including date nights and discounted movie offers.
“We try to stay open,” Andress said. “Sometimes it is a struggle, but we want to be here. We feel like we’re a good economical means of entertainment. During the summer, we cater to the families, and school starts up and with all the colleges here, I’m targeting college students.”
Andress said he is looking forward to the fall semester as a time for students and families to take advantage of the weather.
“We’re getting into some weather that’s going to be really nice drive-in weather, not that cold,” he said. “It will get dark early, we can get started early and get home early.”
Admission for the Town and Country Drive-In is $7 for adults and $3 for children. Andress said he is looking forward to a good year and hopes college students will take advantage of the theatre’s presence in Abilene.
“Abilene loves their drive-in,” Andress said. “They just haven’t discovered it yet.”