Miami Herald, The (FL) - May 22, 1983
Author: CASEY FRANK Herald Staff Writer

When it opened for business on Dec. 4, 1949 -- with the Walt Disney blockbuster Bambi -- the Breezeway Drive-in north of Homestead was an overnight smash, a box office bonanza.

"We had over 500 people that night," said Charlie Frank Bethune, ticket taker on opening night. "The highways were clogged. They were backed up in every direction."

At the Breezeway today, traffic tie-ups aren't a problem; movies like Bambi are a thing of the past; and the workers wonder how much longer they'll have their jobs.

The dilapidated drive-in , the last outdoor movie theater south of Bird Road, has switched from family films to skin flicks -- and cut back its operations from seven days a week to four.

Last weekend's double feature -- 1,001 Erotic Nights and China Girls -- drew fewer than 70 customers a night at $3 a head.

This weekend's combo, Ladies' Night and Afternoon Tease, isn't faring much better at the box office.

There are persistent published rumors -- denied by a representative of the theater company -- that the Breezeway's acreage is about to be bought by Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. and converted into a supermarket.

Winn-Dixie officials wouldn't respond to questions about the rumored sale.

Should it be sold, the Breezeway wouldn't be the first Dade drive-in to die in the name of commerce. In most cases, other closings were attributed to sinking ticket revenues, rising land costs and soaring property taxes.

Changing tastes

Steve Weinstock, a spokesman for Holiday Theaters Inc., which owns the Breezeway, attributes its troubles -- and the doldrums of drive-in theaters in general -- to the changing tastes of American moviegoers.

Holiday owns five indoor theaters in South Dade in addition to the drive-in .

"There has been a drastic decline in drive-in movie theaters," said Weinstock. "They're just not as popular as they used to be, what with cable-TV and home television. People are just not willing to sit in a car like they used to and watch a movie."

The theater manager, a man in his 20s who grew up across
from another now defunct drive-in , believes that outdoor theaters remain a viable business. He blames inadequate maintenance and the ceaseless string of low-budget sex films for the Breezeway's decline.

"What I think is that these sex movies have worn the people out. You see only so much of that and it gets boring," said the manager, who does not want his name used because his parents and friends aren't aware of his X-rated moonlighting.

"Too many people don't dig these X-rated pictures," said backup projectionist George Butler, with a golf hat perched on his head and an unlit cigar stub clamped between his teeth.

Butler has worked at the Breezeway -- or its sister operation, the Homestead Theater -- for 25 years.

Halloweed Lester Jr., the main projectionist, thinks the Breezeway could still be popular if it returned to booking first-run family films.

"If a new movie came out, and we got it here, we could still get a crowd," said Lester, 25, a projectionist for 11 years.

Looking back

In the 1950s and '60s, the Breezeway, at Old Dixie Highway and SW 304th Street, was a thriving attraction for families from the Redland to the Keys. It was a popular hangout for teenagers, too.

"That used to be our Saturday night entertainment," recalled William Dickinson, a Homestead councilman and longtime resident. "I had a 1942 Chevrolet four-door. I would bring the kids, my three daughters, and they would sit on the hood of the car. They would look at the movies and eat popcorn and thoroughly enjoy it. It was a family-type thing that everybody enjoyed."

"The upper echelon used to come to the Breezeway," Bethune recalled.

"Back in those days," she added, "I would go back there and watch an occasional movie myself. They had good movies. Liz Taylor movies. They had the Ten Commandments out there

and> Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

Community mirror

In ways both good and bad, the movie theater was a mirror of the surrounding community.

"One evening, we had three girls who came in on a horse -- three girls on one horse," Bethune recalled.

They hitched the horse to a speaker post and viewed the movie from the animal's back.

Horses were allowed in the movie theater. But until the '60s, blacks were not.

"We had color discrimination. Not only couldn't blacks come here, but neither could Mexicans if their skin was a certain shade of darkness," said Bethune, whose job was to discern the difference.

In those days, the theater owners lived in a two-story house with a large crystal chandelier. The house was built right underneath the screen, so the owners could keep a close eye on the theater operation. The bottom floor is subdivided into storefronts now. The second floor flat is rented out.

By the late 1960s, family-type films were being phased out at the Breezeway. On Dec. 4, 1969, 20 years to the day after showing Bambi, the theater celebrated its anniversary by booking Russ Meyer's spicy sex film, Vixen.

Now that it has switched entirely to skin flicks, the Breezeway is starting to show signs of decay. Weeds shoot through cracks in the undulating asphalt. An unused jungle gym, nearly engulfed by vines, is a rusty reminder that children once frequented the theater.

The shrubbery around the theater's perimeter is strewn with bottles, boxes, gum wrappers and gym shoes. The base of the movie screen has been defaced with graffiti. Several rows of speakers either don't work or have been stripped from their posts.

Concession sales have diminshed considerably, thanks to the ban on children. Adult customers don't buy as many snacks. "They bring in a lot of food from the Burger King now -- where they sell food cheaper than they sell it here," said the manager.

Neighbors complain

As a site barrier, the tall Australian pines surrounding the theater leave something to be desired. Parents living north of the theater have complained there is still a clear view of sex on the screen. They have passed around petitions to close the show down.

Though they are saddened by the condition of the theater, the present manager and ticket taker are bothered most about the
sexually explicit films.

"The ones they are showing now are not fit to be seen," said the ticket taker, a deeply religious widow, who worries what her parishioners might say if her name were used. She watches television on a 12-inch black-and-white set in the ticket booth between cars and never peeks at the movie images that loom overhead. She hangs onto her job because the theater owners "depend on me so much and because I don't want to stay home."

The manager can remember when drive-ins were clean, wholesome family fun. In the '50s and '60s, he lived in the shadow of the Dixie Drive-in at SW 146th Street and U.S. 1.

As a boy, he would would slip into his pajamas, pile into the family car and ride over to the drive-in with his parents to take in the show.

Like the rest of the Dixie's immediate neighbors, the family was issued a free pass to the drive-in as a courtesy -- for tolerating the nightly onslaught of noise.

The Dixie died in 1981. Its unmarked tombstone is a Publix Super Market.

The GoldenGlades Twin Theaters Drive-in , 3401 NW 167th St., was another recent casualty of the disappearing drive-in syndrome. It closed in August 1981 to make way for offices and warehouse space.

To stay alive in an era of of diminishing ticket sales, the Breezeway is increasingly dependent on its Sunday morning flea markets. The weekly swap meets feature a mind-boggling array of merchandise: sinks, stoves, snakes, plastic covered baseball cards, beach balls, bongo drums, tools, tires, drums, jewelry, junk jewelry and junk.

"The flea market is definitely keeping our jobs," said the manager, who brings his "records on wheels" business -- he sells used records out of his car -- to the swap meets.

Breezeway owners have tried boosting cinema attendance with gimmicks and giveaways. The practice of occasionally charging by the car -- rather than by the passenger -- was tried and discarded.

The manager has tried his own mini-promotions, such as handing out gift coupons from his pals in the Eternally Elvis Club, a group of Elvis Presley fans.

"It's just a gesture out of my heart," he said.

It hasn't had much effect.

Economic pressures and changing lifestyles are not the Breezeway's only foes. The Rev. Robert Vollmar, president of the influential Greater Homestead Ministerial Alliance, has made no secret of his desire to see the Breezeway go under.

"Our hands have been basically tied," he said ruefully, "because the theater land is in unincorporated Dade County rather than in Homestead where we have some influence."

The manager, a groundskeeper by day, agrees with the ticket taker and with Vollmar. The movies at the Breezeway, he said, are "disgusting." The manager said he has pleaded with the theater owners to try spy movies or Westerns.

"We've tried it," said Weinstock. "It hasn't done any good."

The manager wonders if the drive-in can survive the summer; whether he'll continue to have a job.

"They can barely afford to pay our salaries," he said.

Vollmar, pointing to the demise of the Dixie, Golden Glades and other drive-ins, predicts a similar fate for the Breezeway.

'It's a dinosaur. I expect it to die a slow death. A gasping death. It can't go to anyplace except dust. It can't go any other way.

"If that happens," added the Baptist preacher, "I would like to take an ad in the newspaper and say 'Hallelujah.' "


Miami Herald, The (FL) - July 10, 1987
Author: GEOFFREY TOMB Herald Staff Writer

A lot of firsts happened in drive-in movies: First kisses. Baby's first night out. First swallows of beer. First scary movie.

Now you count lasts. Dade's next-to-last drive-in , the Tropicaire at Bird Road and the Palmetto Expressway, will be closing down. It was called the South's most modern drive-in when it opened in February 1949.

Gone will be the Americana of the Tropicaire's peeling green facade, pink and green neon and 10 palm trees poking out of planters behind the 40-foot screen. The palm fronds blow in the breeze as if summer nights are forever.

The Tropicaire will go the way of the Dixie (1979 for a Publix) and the GoldenGlades (1981 for a warehouse). Dade, which had 19 drive-ins 25 years ago, will be left with just the
Turnpike Twin, at 12850 NW 27th Ave.

Thursday, the Metro Commission approved zoning changes that would allow developers to build a 287,000-square-foot shopping center on the 28-acre Tropicaire site, now used Thursday through Sunday nights for last-run, pre-video movies and on weekend days for a flea market. Its future is also dim.

"The flea market on Saturdays and Sundays was the only thing that really kept us going," said Keith McComas, Tropicaire's owner. He is 69.

"It used to be we would have 1,500 to 2,000 on a good night. Now we are lucky if we get 200 people in there on a Friday or Saturday."

There were 27 paid parked in the lot Thursday at 8:38 p.m. when Three Amigos flickered on. Platoon was the second feature.

Some views on drive-ins from Tropicaire customers:

"It is just being out of doors in the evening when the sun goes down," said Arthur Brill. He drove from Homestead with his wife, Judy, and seven kids sitting in the bed of a blue Ford pick up.

"We can take all the neighbor's kids," said Judy Brill.

Kids under age 12 are free. Adults are $2.50. For $5 the Brills treated nine to a double feature show. No one at a drive- in calls them films.

"Drive-ins are as American as apple pie," said Jim Spittler of North Bay Village. "This one has the best corn dogs in Florida."

"You can dress casual, relax, kick off your shoes and prop up your feet," said Bill Freeland of South Carolina.

"It's a shame," said Terri Jaramillo of Homestead. "Now we will have to stay home and watch TV."

Her bumper sticker read "Too Many Boys. Not Enough Men."

"We will miss the place. There is enough shopping centers," said Donna Stomick of Kendall.

Bill Ogden, president of Brancroft Development, said the group hopes to build a "Key West-style" shopping plaza of about 50 stores and more than 1,100 parking spaces on the spot. It will be called Tropicaire Center. This will happen in six months, said theater owner McComas.

Dade Mayor Steve Clark had his own views on the new shopping center: "It will be an upgrading of the property."

Herald staff writer Ellen Livingston contributed to this report.


Miami Herald, The (FL) - August 11, 1983
Author: Herald Staff

A half-eaten hot dog that someone left behind during a
break-in at the concession stand of the Boulevard Drive-In, 14301 Biscayne Blvd., attracted a large scorpion that nearly stung a member of the theater 's cleaning crew Saturday, police said.

Police said North Miami Beach Officer Theodore Miller, who responded to the burglary report, killed the scorpion.

Police said someone entered the concession stand between 2 and 11 a.m. The intruder broke the locks on the refrigerator, freezer and cabinets but took nothing.

The burglars did eat several hot dogs that had been left out but dropped one on the floor, police said. That attracted the scorpion.

A similar break-in occurred at the theater two months ago, police said


Miami Herald, The (FL) - July 19, 1985
Author: Herald Staff

Three classic horror movies will be shown tonight and Saturday at six area Wometco Theaters.

Beginning at midnight each night, the films Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween and Zombies will be shown at the Palm Springs, Miracle, Dadeland, Kendale Lakes, Plaza Hollywood and 163rd Street Theaters .


Miami Herald, The (FL) - June 5, 1982
Author: LOURDES BREZO Herald Staff Writer

A fantasy trip into the future turned into a quick trip to jail for one Hialeah man at a trouble-ridden opening of the movie Star Trek -- The Wrath of Kahn.

Michael Chiochetti, 50, of 1364 W. 62nd St., was one of the 400 to 500 persons attending the 10 p.m. showing of Star Trek at the Apollo Theatre, 4054 W. 12th Ave. in Hialeah.

He was charged with disorderly conduct, assault and resisting arrest with violence, Hialeah police said.

About 30 minutes into the movie, viewers complained that the sound was inadequate, police said. About half of the patrons began demanding refund of their $4 admission, Sgt. Joseph Elizardi said.

"The management made an announcement that there was no cash to refund," Elizardi said, "because the day’s receipts had been taken to the bank.

The people were offered passes for the future."

"If I would have had the money here I would have given them refunds," theater manager Jorge Lemes said.

Lemes estimated the crowd asking for refunds at 40 to 50 persons. Sgt. Elizardi estimated 150.

The sergeant called it a potentially dangerous situation, "because of a handful of people."

"They started verbally abusing a police officer," Elizardi said. "Then he

Chiochetti took a swing at a police officer." Chiochetti missed, the sergeant said.

"He tried to take another swing when he was arrested," Elizardi said.


Miami Herald, The (FL) - August 23, 1982
Author: ELLEN BARTLETT Herald Staff Writer

The last 50-cent night at the Hi-Way Airport 9 Drive-In. The regulars arrive before 8 p.m., as usual, to cash in on the cheap seats.

Cool Bill Morris and his weight-lifting pal Jimmy Sands lean on a ’65 Comet convertible, waiting for Rocky III, killing thirst with Pabst Blue Ribbon, killing time, killing mosquitos.

Two unemployed women smoke cigarets in a three-tone Vega. Screen No. 7 in front of them is blank but promising: When the sun goes down and Friday the 13th Part III comes up, there will be suspense, deranged killers and death by sharp implements.

The old routine. Same people. Same popcorn.

After Tuesday, the regulars won’t be returning. There won’t be anything to return to.

The Airport 9’s nine grist-mill sized projectors, nine dingy, peeling movie screens, assorted popcorn machines and wiener steamers will belong to Broward County.

After 28 years between the Dania swamps and Federal Highway, the only attraction coming to the Airport 9 is the fast-growing Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

The Airport 9 opened in 1954 with one screen. In 1972 it tripled. It tripled again in 1975.

"It was going to be a 10. They still had Airport 10 on the sign when I started," said Jack Hegarty, the gentle, red-bearded man who has managed the theater for six years and lives in a small apartment above the snack bar.

When the Airport 9’s nine screens were new and drive-ins were in, as many as 1,200 cars would pack the 33-acre theater at 1930 N. Federal Highway, Dania.

There was air conditioning and radio sound. Viewers could
hook wide-mouthed blue hoses to their car windows, turn on their car radios and tune out everything but the drama.

Time, the opening of the Hi-Way Swap Shop three years ago and the theater’s imminent sale to the county took their toll.

The air conditioners that weren’t rubbed out by moviegoers with large cars have been disassembled. Many of the speakers don’t work; the ones that do crackle.

The pavement is cracked, buckled and littered.

But some things haven’t changed.

The mosquitos are still terrible, the sand fleas worse.

Trains trundle south just behind Screen No. 9, drowning out the noise of the traffic on Federal Highway.

Airplanes still scream overhead.

Every 15 minutes or so, jets taking off from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport make conversation, on or off the screen, impossible.

People still honk their horns when something goes wrong.

And they still try to sneak in.

Hegarty can spot a sneak every time, he said. The drivers talk too fast.

Just last week, he caught a middle-aged woman letting her husband out of the trunk of their car. It was 50-cent night. He made them pay the extra four bits.

The sneak-in record was eight in the trunk of a Cadillac.

When the driver opened the trunk, he said, "Everybody popped out all over the place. They were all wrinkled."

They wanted to see if they could, the culprits told him. Just another drive-in tradition.

"You can’t beat a drive-in," Bill Morris said from the back seat of the Comet. "It’s good American entertainment."

"It’s the last holdout," Sands said, waxing nostalgic as he walked to the snack bar to buy insect repellent.

What other theater offers a selection of 18 movies , free mosquito coils at the ticket booth and a biorhythm machine at the snack bar?

Some of the movies are first-run, too, Hegarty said. But first-run films don’t necessarily spell profits in the drive-in business.

Low-grade horror , high adventure, lowbrow humor, high-speed chases.

Movies with blood, gore, Clint Eastwood, cops, cowboys, Burt Reynolds, fast cars. Those sell.

"Play a first-class film here and it wouldn’t do a thing," Hegarty said. "They want action."

Action and a bargain. People who bring their own booze, drive beat-up American cars and bring the kids to bed down in the back seat like the admission price -- about half the admission to an indoor theater.

Tuesday, admission and popcorn will be free, the movie selection nostalgic. The Last Night will feature The Last Picture Show, movies about airports, movies about movies , movies about going away. They were carefully selected.

"It hasn’t hit me yet," Hegarty said.

His parents ran the old Gold Coast Drive-In in Pompano Beach before it was bought out by a shopping center, before Southern Bell replaced the old Federal Drive-In with an office building, before the Arrow was turned into a car lot.

When the Airport 9 is gone, there will be two drive-ins left in Broward, the Thunderbird and the Lake Shore, both owned by Preston Henn, the race car driver who owns the Airport 9.

So far, Henn has been paid $4.25 million for his airport theater. He could receive more. The purchase price hasn’t been settled.

By the time it is settled, the theater will have been long gone.

"I think it’s terrible," said Valerie Bierman, 22, waiting for Friday the 13th Part III.

"We saw Friday the 13th Part I and II here, too," Bierman said. "We like gore."

She and friend Diane Petriella, 23, drive from Hollywood in the three-tone Vega at least once a week.

"Beats sitting home and watching pay TV," said Petriella.

Used to be, they’d roller skate at the Galaxy during the week, meet at the drive-in Sundays. An entire crowd would drive up.

"This was a real social place," Bierman said.

"It was a hangout," Petriella said.

"We used to fill two rows with people from Hollywood. Everybody used to play Frisbee. We had watermelon fights," Bierman said. "We had good times."

Tony Sossong’s mother told him about the drive-in’s demise. He hasn’t missed a cheap night since he got out of the Navy.

He and Sam Hirsch play baseball until the movie starts, or Asteroids at the snack bar where red-haired cashier Lillian Wentzel watches.

"I wouldn’t take a million dollars for what I’ve seen from behind this counter," said Wentzel, who has an especially sharp eye for tourists.

Like Thomas Scott, an ample-girthed, clip-voiced British doctor, who arrived in a rented black Cadillac.

"It’s rather a good idea, actually, the drive-in. I’ve read they’re fast becoming an institution," he said.

"These people from Europe," Wentzel said. "This is something fantastic to them. They don’t have nothin’ with nine screens. ..

"We hate the airport people for taking our place. Where are we going to go now?"


Miami Herald, The (FL) - June 9, 1983
Author: BILL BRAUCHER Herald Columnist

Times were hard in 1933 and people were apt to do anything to survive. When Richard Hollingshead Jr. took a projector outside one night and flashed a movie onto the side of a building, family and friends looked at him strangely.

But Hollingsworth enjoyed the last laugh. In June that year, he opened the world’s first drive-in theater, in Camden, N.J. The feature was Wife Beware, with Adolphe Menjou.

On their 50th anniversary this week, drive-in theaters almost qualify as history. Where theaters have not been sold or redeveloped, tattered old screens and cracked, weed-covered ramps mark the passing of an era.

Four years ago, Preston Henn, a 51-year-old rugged individualist from Hillsboro Beach, owned 11 theaters in Broward, Palm Beach and Polk counties. Most were drive-ins.

He has four left, just two in Broward -- the seven-screen Thunderbird, doubling as a flea market on 55 acres at 3121 W. Sunrise Blvd., and the four-screen Lake Shore, at 1000 N. State Road 7 in Margate. These are the county’s last outdoor picture shows.

But feeling sorry for Henn would be a waste of time and emotion. Thanks to the flourishing flea-market operations at all four of his drive-ins, his corporation still profits by millions annually.

Last year, Broward County, paving the way for airport expansion, condemned his Airport Hi-Way Drive In. On 29.86 acres east of U.S. 1, the Hi-Way was advertised as the only nine- screen attraction in the world. According to Ted F. Shrader, real estate assistant in the property division, the county paid $4,517,860 for the land and personal property involved.

Henn was forced to close last Aug. 25 and didn’t like it.

"We haven’t gone to court yet, but we will," he said Wednesday. "To take someone’s property in a one-sided deal isn’t right. That price doesn’t include the cost of building nine screens and another $1.5 million for paving, ramping and so forth."

Henn hardly needs the money, but he is a competitor. He leaves today for France, where he will drive his $100,000, 800- horsepower Porsche 935 in the Le Mans Gran Prix.

Nor does he need the drive-ins. But buoyed by a swap shop phenomenon that he admits he cannot understand, "We’re doing all right."

Drive-in prices remain comparative bargains -- $2.50 at the Thunderbird, $2 at the Lake Shore. Children under 12 are admitted free.

"Multiple screens saved us," Henn said. "They’ve also saved indoor theaters. You won’t find many single-screen theaters left, indoors or out. They’re things of the past.

"If we had continued with one-screens as the popularity of television and cable television grew, we’d have folded up and gone long ago.

"We’ve also got to have big movies , like E.T. and Return of the Jedi. I hear some theaters are charging children $4.50 for Jedi. That’s quite expensive.

’Used to be," the North Carolina native said, "we could get by with five horrors , five westerns and five car-race movies . Not any more. You need the big picture."

Henn bought the Thunderbird, then a one-screen theater, in 1963 and expanded over the years. The flea market has been going strong for almost 17 years, drawing about 25,000 buyers and sellers of hand-me-downs on weekends.

The character of the drive-in has not changed over a half- century, except that car radios tuned to certain frequencies pick up the sound. Henn still uses speakers, for the most part.

Concession business remains brisk considering dwindling attendance. Teenagers are still unable to tell their parents about movies they saw. Cheaters still hide in car trunks to escape admission fees.

"It happens all the time, but it’s no problem, really," Henn said. "It’s a small part of the business. For people that tight, it’s better to get one admission than none."

The days of drive-ins might be numbered, but Henn has cause to remember them fondly. They made him a pile.