South Drive-in Theatre History

The Riverside was the first Columbus Area drive-in built, and it opened in June of 1940, and was built by Frank Yassenoff. The Riverside opened with two larger speakers located on the screen just below the bottom of the picture. Well-to-do neighbors across the river, west of the theater were quick to complain about the noise. The in-car speaker probably was not yet being manufactured, and so Yassenoff had to construct little boxes with speaker cones on each post. Running underground wiring to the various posts was also a problem because of the rock lying close to the surface, so Yassenoff strung the wires overhead, which meant that the wires were frequently in customers site lines. The wires were eventually buried and commerically made metal speakers replaced the homemade ones. World War II came along and with that there was gas rationing. The Riverside was out in the country in those days, but people came nervertheless, using their limited rations of gasoline. The Riverside was a crude first attempt at a drive-in. Later a concession stand was built, but the rest rooms stayed in the screen tower for the 37 seasons that the Riverside operated. The Riverside closed after the 1976 season when when the land was developed at what is now called Cranston Rd.

After the end of the war, drive-in construction was fast and furious. The Eastside on E. Main St. at Robinwood opened in 1946. This theater was also built by Frank Yassenoff. The Eastside was in Whitehall, an area that grew rapidly after the war, and was a very successful operation. However, the decline in business in the late 1970’s brought the closure and demolition of the Eastside at the end of the 1980 season. Today, there is an Aldi’s store and some office warhouses on the site.

In 1947, the National opened on the north side of W. Broad St. in the block between Wilson Rd. and Phillipi Rd. The National was built by Leo Yassenoff, a first cousin of Frank Yassenoff. The National did very well over the years as the Hilltop and Lincoln Village areas grew along with the growth of many blue collar jobs on the West Side. By the early 70’s the National was dated and run down. Meanwhile, Leo Yassenoff passed away. The National was sold to Chakeres Theaters from Springfield. Chakeres undertook the rebuilding of the National and it reopened in 1972 as the Holiday Drive-in. The Holiday was a beautiful drive-in with a huge air conditioned concession stand. However, soon after its construction, drive-in business started to decline. The Holiday became a 2-screen drive-in in 1976 and operated through 1987 when a shopping center was developed on the site.

1948 was a busy year for new drive-in openings with three new ones opening, doubling the number operating to six. Frank Yassenoff opened the 3C Drive-in at the corner of Harrisburg Pike and Eakin Rd. The 3C was reasonably successful and in 1986 was expanded into a 2 screen drive-in and a large new concession was added. The ne 3C Twin did well, but again the decline of the late 1970’s took its toll and the 3C closed at the end of the 1986 season. A Kroger Center is now on the location. A new drive-in developer, Ethel Miles jumped into the competition in 1948, opening the Miles Scioto and the Miles W. Broad. The Miles Scioto was located where The Landings apartment and office developments today, opposite Griggs Dam. Although the Scioto was a successful operation, the property on the edge of Upper Arlington became extremely valuable and was sold for development in 1965. The Miles W. Broad was located at the northeast corner of W. Broad and Phillipi Rd., quite a location in those days. Like all of the Miles Drive-ins, it was a big beautiful drive-in for its time and was well-maintained. The Miles Drive-ins were the nicest drive-ins in Columbus during their era. The Miles Drive-ins catered to families and played virtually all of the Walt Disney releases. The W. Broad was sold for development and closed the end of the 1969 season. A Gold Circle store was built there. During the years that the W. Broad operated, customers of the W. Broad could see the National’s screen and vice versa.

In 1949, Mrs. Miles opened the E. Main Drive-in on the north side of E. Main between Hamilton Rd. and Country Club. The E. Main along with the W. Broad were the top grossing drive-ins in Columbus for many years. After Mrs. Miles passed away in 1967, the E. Main was sold to Chakeres Theaters. Chakeres operated the E. Main through the 1989 season, when a Kroger store was built on the site.

In 1950, 2 drive-ins opened, the Lindenaire and the South. The Lindenaire was on the east side of Westerville Rd., just south of Innis Rd. The Linderaire sat back a ways from the road with just enough road frontage for an entrance and exit road and for its attractive sign. Over the years, until nearly the end, the Lindenaire had a reputation as a family-oriented drive-in. It was built by the MacDonald Family and managed by Bill Queen for many years. In the early 70’s, it was purchased by the Hyman Family which operated theaters and drive-ins in the Huntington West Virginia area. The South Drive-in was the second drive-in built by Leo Yassenoff in Columbus. In 1971, Skip Yassenoff bought the drive-in from his elderly cousin and continues to operate it today. The South was twinned in 1987. The South has also been the site of a large flea market on weekends since the mid 70’s. In 1972, the old telephone tower screen which had become quite rickety was replaced with a modern steel “billboard type” screen. As luck would have it, a year later a tornado took down the brand new screen. The tornado rolled through the drive-in on a Wednesday night in late May just before dark. There were a number of patrons in the drive-in at the time who rode out the tornado. The cashier in the box office could see the tornado coming and just sat there, finally diving face first into the drainage ditch by the box office.

In 1952, Mrs. Miles opened the Miles N. High Drive-in on Rt. 23 north of Columbus, just across the county line in Delaware County. Like the other Miles Drive-ins, it was deluxe. As that part of Columbus continued to grow, the North High’s business increased greatly. But, then as drive-in business swooned, in 1977, Chakeres Theaters which had purchased it, added a second screen in the back. As business declined, the programming was switched to X-rated and only the front screen was used. In 1989, the property was sold and the North High closed.

In 1953, Frank Yassenoff built the W. 5th Ave. Drive-in on W. 5th Ave, just west of Olentangy, in an industrial area bordered by homes in the Grandview area. The site had previously been a driving range. The W. 5th was the first drive-in in Columbus to have in-car electric heaters. The W. 5th was the only drive-in operating in the winter and it was said that the drive-in did more business in the winter than in the summer. The Miles Family saw this and quickly wired their drive-ins for heaters. The W. 5th was one of the early casualties of the great decline in drive-in business. It was a valuable property, and McDonalds purchased a part of the frontage and the rest of the property was quickly developed. For one year, the W.5th sold beer, but because of the open container law, the Director of Liqouor Control refused to renew the license. 1953 was also the year that Kingman Drive-in opened south of Delaware, on Cheshire Rd., just east of Rt. 23. The Kingman operated through the 2001 season when it was sold for development. The Kingman had a very successful flea market on Sundays through the 80’s and 90’s. The Kingman was often able to get the top movies before the drive-ins in Columbus because it was in a different territory than the Columbus drive-ins. In the 80’s, many people went all the way up to Kingman to enjoy the various Superman movies band others, because the Columbus drive-ins couldn’t book them on the release date.

In 1955, a theater owner from Joliet, IL named Jerry Shinback decided to build another drive-in on E. Main St. in Whitehall. The In Town was just west of the Eastside and one could see both screens from either theater. The In Town was a big drive-in and was the best one so far. The marquee out front was much bigger than any other drive-in. The entrance drive was long with 2 ticket offices. The concession and rest rooms were all impressive. There was even a miniature golf course in front which was managed by Bob Zelko. The opening of this big beautiful drive-in next door to the Eastside must have given Frank Yassenoff fits. The business pie was certainly being divided into smaller pieces, and the Eastside was likely getting the smallest piece. Frank had a measure of revenge, though. In 1965, Zayres paid a big price for the In Town property to develop a store and shopping center. Frank Yassenoff purchased the screen, the sign, and whatever else he could haul off for a song.

In 1956, the 17th Ave. Drive-in opened, the third drive-in built by Leo Yassenoff. It was on the north side of 17th Ave. between Joyce and Woodland. Today, it is difficult to believe that a successful drive-in existed there. In its day, the 17th Ave. was one of the top drive-ins in Columbus. Apparently, the location tapped both the Linden areas and also parts of the east side. As the area deteriorated, so did business. Although, the popularity of “Black” movies like Shaft, Superfly, Foxy Brown, etc. became mainstays at the 17th Ave. in the 70’s and kept it going for longer than it might have otherwise lasted. It finally closed in 1978.

In 1957, Frank Yassenoff opened the Airport Indoor and Outdoor Drive-in at the corner of E. 7th and N. James. The Airport was the ultimate in innovations for Frank Yassenoff. The screen which was positioned facing east and recessed in shadow box, making it possible to start the show somewhat earlier. This was a response to the late start times because of the switch to Daylight Savings Time. The large concession stand also had two auditoriums attached on each side of the front where customers could sit and look out large plate glass windows. This was the obvious answer to rainy nights and cold winter weather. Unfortunately, the Airport never did much business and the indoor auditoriums were a total failure. Apparently, people preferred to stay near their car. The Airport was difficult to find in the era before GPS because the James Rd. that everyone knew south of Broad, actually became Stelzer Rd. to the north and 7th was not a through street. The airplanes also were quite loud overhead, and nearby, making it difficult to hear the speakers. But, the worst problem was the low poorly drained site, that flooded many times and there was a perpetual swamp adjacent with the biggest mosquitos this side of Louisiana. In the 70’s the Airport became somewhat popular when playing R-rated sexploitation movies, even though you could pull off of 7th and watch the picture from the road for free. The Airport was sold for industrial development in 1983.

In 1961, an owner of a carry out on W. Broad St. that sat between the National Drive-in and Miles W. Broad Drive-in decided that he was going to have his own drive-in and get rich. He chose to build the Torch Drive-in way out on Rt. 40, east of Reynoldsburg. There weren’t too many people out there but at least it was on the National Rd., route 40, and the 20 acre parcel was affordable. The Torch wasn’t able to compete for movies or customers against the other 3 drive-ins established closer in on E. Main St. The Torch closed and was purchased by Frank Yassenoff in 1967 and renamed the 40 East. The 40 East became a twin in 1978 and continue to operate until August of 2003, when the State of Ohio purchased the land for expansion of the State Fire Training Academy located next door.

The last drive-in to be built was the Dublin Drive-in which opened in 1970. It was built by a drive-in architect, Jack K. Vogel of Salem and his brother Colonel Paul Vogel. The Vogel’s went all out on this one. Not only did it have a huge screen, large concession, and large rest rooms, but, in my opinion, it had the highest quality finishes as well. It was a beautiful drive-in. This area was just starting to develop with the opening of the I-270 and Sawmill outerbelt ramps, so the going was somewhat slow early on, and then the hard times of the 70’s came along, and ultimately an offer from Wendy’s to buy the land for their corporate headquarters. The Dublin Drive-in closed in 1982. The manager of the Dublin, Bill Reese built a very successful Sunday flea market which inspired the flea market still operating today at South Drive-in.

There were drive-ins in all of the surrounding towns like Newark, Marysville, Mt. Vernon, Circleville, and Lancaster. In fact, the Skyview drive-in located on Rt. 22 on the east side of Lancaster is still open and does very well.

YEAR CLOSED  Estimated # of speakers
 Riverside  5800
Riverside Dr.
1940  1976  400
 Eastside  3811 E. Main St. 1946 1980  600
 National/Holiday  3850 W. Broad St. 1947/1972 1987  1200
 3C  1395
Harrisburg Pk.
1948 1986  1400
 Miles Scioto  3050 Riverside Dr. 1948 1965  600
 Miles W. Broad  4050 W. Broad St. 1948 1969  1000
 Miles E. Main  4750
E. Main St.
1949 1989  900
 Lindenaire  3168 Westerville Rd. 1950 1984  650
South  3050
S. High St.
1950 Open  800
 Miles N. High  8750 N. High St. 1952 1989  1000
 Kingman  Rt. 23 at Cheshire Rd. 1953  2001  600
 W. 5th  900
W. 5th Ave.
1953  1978  500
 In Town  3651 E. Main St. 1955 1965  1000
 17th Ave.  1770 E. 17th Ave. 1956 1978  1000
 Airport  N. James & E. 7th Ave. 1957  1983  650
 Torch/40 East  8659
E. Main St.
1961/1967 2003  700
 Dublin  Rt. 161 W. of Rt. 33 1970 1982  1000