The Creation of “Park In Theater” – The Story of Movie Magic Living on at Charlann Farms
By: Jenny Paschall Lyon
Once upon a time drive in movies were the great American pastime – warm summer nights, ice cold drinks, popcorn, the magic of film – and it all began less than 50 miles from Bucks County. On June 6, 1933, just outside Camden, New Jersey drivers paid 25 cents per car, plus an additional 25 cents per person to watch the English comedy Wives Beware at ‘the first automobile movie theater in the world.’ It was the brainchild of Richard Milton Hollingshead, Jr. who called it a ‘Park In Theater’. As he explained ‘My invention relates to a new and useful outdoor theater whereby the transportation facilities to and from the theater are made to constitute an element of the seating facilities.’ He cannily advertised his exciting new concept by assuring one and all: ‘The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.’ The concept of showing movies outdoors wasn’t novel; people often watched silent films on screens set up at beaches or other wide open spaces, but Hollingshead was definitely the first person to create a formal outdoor space for movie watching once talkies took over the industry. And while his initial set up was pretty basic – he balanced a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his car and suspended a sheet between a couple of trees, while the audio came from a radio hidden behind the sheet – nevertheless, his idea clearly worked and he patented it.
Wives Beware was a 1932 British comedy film directed by Fred Niblo and starring Adolphe Menjou, Margaret Bannerman and Claud Allister. It is adapted from a play by Harold Dearden. Produced by Eric Hakim Productions and backed by MGM, the film was produced at Wembley Studios. Wives Beware was the first film to ever be screened as a “Park In” in 1932. Pictured above: Actress Margaret Bannerman.
Less than one year later on April 15th 1934 in Orefield Pennsylvania, Wilson Shankweiler, a prominent hotel owner and dedicated movie fan, opened Shankweiler’s Park In Theater. It was the second in the entire United States and, like its predecessor, less than 50 miles from Bucks County.
The drive in concept had truly arrived. By the 1950’s there were over 4,000 drive-ins throughout the US, mostly in more rural areas. Currently, Pennsylvania is among the states with the most drive ins still in operation.
As Bucks County was so close to the epicenter of the birth of this great American experience, it’s hardly surprising that we are still ahead of the curve when it comes to the 2022 version of the drive in movie event.
The Stewart family in Yardley have owned and run Charlann Farm for 6 generations. In their own words, it’s ‘a tractor driving, tomato growing, corn picking, pumpkin chunking, grain harvesting, farmers market attending, down home true to their roots family farm that was local before local was cool. A dying breed. A conservation minded, soil managing, sustainable farm. Fresh and homegrown in good old Bucks County, Pennsylvania.’ But there’s more to this farm than just, well, farming!
In 1934, Orefield Pennsylvania, Wilson Shankweiler, a prominent hotel owner and dedicated movie fan, opened Shankweiler’s Park In Theater. It was the second in the entire United States and, like its predecessor, less than 50 miles from Bucks County. Photo Credit: Shankweiler’s website.
At the height of the Covid pandemic in 2021 Lori Katz, a family member and events co-ordinator for Charlann Farm, decided that a drive in movie theater would be just what the doctor ordered for a lot of stir crazy Pennsylvanians. It seemed like a great way to provide some much needed entertainment in a safe, outdoor environment. She reached out to MidAtlantic Event Group to see if they were interested in helping with the project. They were, and by the summer of that year, a pasture had turned into a drive in and locals were flocking. ‘It’s a great space,’ explains Lori, ‘It got people outdoors and brought them to the farm.’ Everyone was having such a good time that as those long summer nights shortened and the weather cooled, it seemed a shame to put an end to the family fun. So Lori and MidAtlantic just kept showing movies and continued to draw audiences throughout the cold winter months of 2021. The winter movie experience proved so successful, Charlann Farms are presenting their Holiday Drive In Movie Spectacular again this year.
It’s truly Christmas reimagined and so much more of an adventure than the local multiplex, or watching those seasonal favorites at home. As the snow falls, audiences can watch their favorite movies on a 50 foot screen in a magical setting which brings the movie to life.
Charlann Farms throughout December hosts their Holiday Drive In Movie Spectacular. Photo Credit: Contributed.
‘The winter vibe is very different,’ says Lori. ‘We have Christmas trees, a farm stand, a holiday barn with fun gifts. It’s a winter wonderland experience which is very child oriented. This may be the first time some visitors have ever been to a farm. People tend to come early so they can enjoy everything we have to offer here.’ There are also visits from reindeer and Santa, but they have to be booked separately. After seeing all the sights, folks can snuggle up in their cars with hot chocolate or apple cider and some delicious baked goods. And even the pets can share in the fun.
Parents – or grandparents – can take their kids to see family favorites, such as Elf, The Polar Express, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Four Christmases, Home Alone (1 and 2), The Santa Clause and, of course, The Christmas Story.
Viewing movies under the stars doesn’t have to end as winter draws in. Just head to Charlann Farm and immerse yourself in this enchanting experience. It’s a perfect Christmas outing for all the family and I’m pretty certain Mr Hollingshead Jr would heartily approve.
The Holiday Drive In Movie Spectacular for December has been wonderfully popular and tickets for Friday’s “A Christmas Story” screening are still available. To save seats for A Christmas Story, visit Mid Atlantic’s ticketing page.
If you miss the Holiday Drive In Movie Spectacular, Charlann Farms is planning more screenings in 2023. To learn more about Charlann’s working Farm and to keep abreast of future programming, visit www.charlannfarms.com
The “Red Truck” at Charlann Farms Photo Credit: Contributed.