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How many drive-in movie theaters were in Wilmington?

John Staton

There have been at least seven drive-in movie theaters in Wilmington, with most of them operating between the late 1940s and the early 1980s.

At one point, in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s, there may have been as many as five drive-ins operating at one time.

The first proper drive-in theater in the Wilmington area was likely the Carolina Drive-In, which William Thrush opened on Carolina Beach Road near Monkey Junction in 1947, according to Thrush’s 1997 obituary in the StarNews.

Thrush opened another drive-in theater, The Parkview (sometimes spelled the Park-Vue) on Oleander Drive in 1949, according to the same obituary.

Perhaps the best-known Wilmington drive-ins were located across the street from each other on Carolina Beach Road.

The Skyline Drive-In Theatrewas notorious for showing racy and even X-rated movies.

But The Starway, located at the site of what is now the Starway Flea Market, is probably the best-known Wilmington drive-in, mainly because of its longevity. It operated from 1952-1984.

A planned reopening of The Starway in 1996 was scrapped after the Wilmington City Council voted 5-1 against changing rules allowing it to operate later than 11 p.m. (Interestingly, the sole dissenter was Charlie Rivenbark, a Wilmington native who might’ve been nostalgic for the town’s drive-in past. Rivenbark was off council for several years but is now a councilman again.)

The planned re-opening of The Starway was met with organized opposition from residents of nearby neighborhoods, including members of the Sunset Park neighborhood association, who feared a drive-in screening movies late at night would lead to more crime in the area.

Literature in the New Hanover County Library’s North Carolina Room also contains references to the North 17 drive-in on Market Street, as well as to a drive-in theater called the Wrightsville Road, located near where the old Cinema 6 on Oleander was.

References to the ‘Oleander Drive-In’ can be found in material provided by the North Carolina Room, but it’s not clear whether the Oleander was a separate drive-in or just the Wrightsville Road or the Parkview operating or being referred to under a different name.

The Wrightsville Road, North 17, Starway and Skyline were all in operation in 1960, according to advertisements placed in the StarNews, and it seems likely that the Parkview, but not the Carolina Drive-In, was screening films then as well.

And while it might not technically be a drive-in, in the 1920s the old Lumina entertainment complex at Wrightsville Beach was famous for showing films on a screen mounted in the surf so that viewers could literally watch a movie projected over the waves.

Screenings at Lumina were featured in a book about North Carolina drive-in theaters.

User-contributed question by:
Henry Duncan

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5 Responses to “ How many drive-in movie theaters were in Wilmington?”

  1. On March 3, 2010 at 8:56 pm Robert Roche wrote:

    I remember two drive in theatres we would go to with my parents the one on Market St and the other nearer to the beach probably on Oleander Dr in the late ’50s I remember watching “Shane’ and “To Kill a Mockingbird” Also I remember my mother having a postcard of the movie screen out in the ocean off Lumina.

  2. On March 4, 2010 at 10:39 am RStan wrote:

    The recent article on drive-in theaters questioned the existence of two similarly named theaters on Oleander Drive. They were the same theater first being named Wrightsville Road Theater and then the Oleander Drive-in. The former Carmike theater now occupies that spot.
    The North 17 Drive-in was located on Market Street on the right about a block north of the Market Street and Covil Avenue intersection. The China Buffet occupies part of the site today. The projectors from the North 17 were eventually installed in the Wrightsville Road theater.

  3. On March 7, 2010 at 3:18 pm Alma Irving wrote:

    About the drive in Movie Theaters. I was born and raised in Wilmington NC since 1940. The article about the Park View Drive in Theater was a little uncertain. As I remember it, that was a different theater than the Wrightsville Road Drive in , which was on Oleander drive up near where the Bowling Ally or Cinima 6 on Oleander was. Also , the Wrightsville Road Drive In Theater as I remember was never named Oleander Drive In. The only theater called Oleander theater was the walk in theater, Oleander Cinima 6, I believe it was called.

    The Park View Drive in Theater was up near Floral Parkway on Oleander Drive, I thing they tore it down to build the shopping center, Hanover Center or Azalea Shopping Center where Office Depot is. I cannot remember exactly but it was in that area.

    I just thought I would try to clear that up about the Park View Drive in Theater.

  4. On May 4, 2011 at 2:57 pm MikeS wrote:

    When I worked for the Oleander Rocking Chair Theater in the early 1970s there were three drive-ins at the time; Starway, Skyline (where Medical Center Dr intersects with Carolina Beach Road), and Wrightsville Road (site of the shutdown Carmike theater on Oleander). All were owned by the same company that owned the Oleander Rocking Chair Theater along with the three other in-door theaters downtown. As an employee I was allow free admission to all of them. Made for a cheap date since going to the movies was about the only thing to do then.

  5. On October 8, 2013 at 7:58 am murray wrote:

    In the early 1950,s, there was a drive in theater, I think, called the Castle Hayne Road Drive In. It was located on the east side of of the Castle Hayne Rd, just south of Parmale Rd. After a Hurricane blew down the screen, in the mid 50,s it was never reopened.

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