Drive-in days are over

By Time of article published Dec 20, 2005

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By Rivonia Naidu

The era of drive-ins has come to an end in Durban. Earlier this month, Ster Kinekor closed the Durban Drive-in in Brickhill Road, leaving many people with just memories of what was once a landmark in Durban.

The massive white screen that could be seen from tall buildings around Durban central was shattered to pieces earlier this month as the big screen fell to the ground in a dramatic ending, similar to a 1950s movie scene.

The drive-in's biggest fans said that many people will now be robbed of a night under the stars, a romantic movie, and a bottle of wine and snacks - their perfect description of trips to the drive-in.

Some took the Daily News on a trip down memory lane, remembering why the drive-in was the highlight of their evenings.

Illa Thompson, a Durban publicist who started going to the drive-in when she was in high school (in the 1970s) said: "It's actually very sad to see the drive-in close."

Her sentiments were shared by many Durbanites, who said the drive-in was a "really nice way to socialise with family and friends".

Thompson felt the Durban climate and the drive-in complimented each other.

"We used to go with the family, put up some chairs in front of the car and watch the movie," said Thompson.

Durban surfing pioneer Baron Stander described visits to the drive-in as a "big deal" in his younger days.

"I used to go to the drive-in with my first motorbike. It was a huge part of our lives when we were young. We would go there about two to three times a month," he said.

Stander also said: "People went to the drive-in because you could relax and cuddle up.

"The atmosphere was very good and you would find most people watched the movie from the backseats of their cars. It was much better than the 'bioscope', because in those days we had to dress up in formal pants to watch movies at the cinema."

Daily News Tonight reporter Sally Scott shared a similar story. She said it was convenient to take the kids along as they would sit at the back and sometimes fall asleep, which was sometimes nice.

She added: "There were many times when we would forget to dismantle the radio from our car and we would mistakenly drive away with it. But we used to reconnect again - it used to be very funny," she said.

Ashwin Desai shared his thoughts on the drive-in concept, saying that when he was young non-whites were not allowed at the Durban drive-in, but his dad used to drive past the drive-in so that they could see what was playing on the big screen.

"When the drive-in was opened, many non-whites would drive around the area and find a spot to watch the movie from the road. But we obviously couldn't hear and see much," he said.

Desai said a drive-in for non-whites was built by Pat Naidoo in the 1970s in Shallcross.

"Once the Shallcross drive-in was built, many people could enjoy their afternoons watching a movie. It was genuine family entertainment and it was much cheaper. It used to be a lot of fun, and reinforced the community as many people would take their neighbours along.

"It's very sad that the drive-in concept has faded away. It was a creative innovation that should be preserved.

"Can you imagine watching a Bollywood movie under the stars? It would be so nice," said Desai.

For many the drive-in was a place to "hangout and chill", with friends and family, but like many drive-ins across the world, it was not commercially viable to have them running.

National CEO of Ster Kinekor Theatres, Fiaz Mohammed said that as trends of the world changed, so did the frequent visits to the drive-in.

"Habits of people have changed immensely and times have changed and as that continues to happen, drive-ins have been diminishing," he said.

Mohammed also said the drive-in did hold fond memories for many people and there are probably "good stories that people can relate".

He added: "There were initially 25 drive-ins in South Africa, but only two remain, Topstar Drive-in in central Johannesburg and Velskoen Drive-in in Randburg."

Julie-May Ellingson, joint programme leader of the inner Thekwini regeneration and urban management programme, said the land at which the Durban Drive-in was housed will now be used for "sports facilities or as a residential area".

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