Remember the Natick Drive In
NATICK – One day in 1979, David Wodeyla, seeking to capture a piece of disappearing Americana, grabbed his camera and climbed into his 1966 white convertible Mustang and drove to Natick Drive-In.
The soon to be wrecking ball was the open-air Speen Street movie theater, special to Wodeyla, and he wanted to snap a few photos of it before it was gone forever.
He took pictures of the refreshment stall, the ticket office and, of course, the big screen.
His most iconic shot is the one in which his convertible is parked in front of the entrance. In the distance, the drive-in logo is clearly visible.
The photo is often shared online and is even displayed in a kiosk in the Natick mall.
“I didn’t realize that every time someone searches Google for Natick Drive-In, my photo is often the first to appear,” Wodeyla wrote on the “Natick Mall Memories” Facebook page last summer.
The Natick Drive-In opened in 1950 across from the former Wonder Bread Factory. It quickly became a popular destination for families and teenagers.
Terri Evans, a member of Natick’s Planning Council and local historian, said the population of the area is increasing, both because of the baby boom but also because of the construction of Highway 9. Natick’s population has increased. increased 85% between 1945 and 1960, she said.
The drive-in was great for young families because it was affordable and fun, she said.
“You could pretty much cram all the kids into the car and get great entertainment for the whole family,” she said.
James White, Natick’s soon-to-retire public health director, remembers going to the drive-in with his family and friends. He saw “Jaws” (1975) and “The Exorcist” (1973) for the first time.
“Talk about scaring us in the car,” he said while watching horror movies at the age of 17.
When his children were younger, White would take them to the Mendon Twin Drive-In. But he and his wife, who also grew up in Natick, remember their days at Natick Drive-In.
The country’s first drive-through opened in Camden, New Jersey on June 6, 1933, according to the History Channel. Today there are approximately 325 drive-ins across the country, including the Mendon Twin Drive-In, Leicester Triple Drive-In, and Northfield Drive-In.
The Natick Drive-In era ended in the late 1970s. Voters for Town Meeting in the winter of 1977 voted to allow developers to demolish it and build a Ramada Inn complex and mall, according to one. South Middlesex Daily News report that Wodeyla included in her blog, natickmass.info.
In this story, journalist Alan Henry returned to the impact of cinema, noting that it was a “monument to teenage intrigue and a wasteland of broken hearts and false promises.”
Today, the Cloverleaf Mall is located at the former Drive-In location.
Whether it was for a date or with the family to bond, the drive-in was popular for about a generation.
At its peak in the early 1960s, 100 to 300 cars lined up on the lot during the winter. In the summer it would fill up to capacity at 1,250, Henry wrote.
By the end of the 1970s, however, those numbers had declined. There were indoor theaters nearby, such as at Shoppers World in Framingham. The drive-in no longer attracted young people than it used to be.
But before he even passed away, Henry was becoming poetic about the legacy of the drive-through.
“For those thousands of people who ‘spent time’ at Natick Drive-In, at least the memories will remain,” Henry wrote. “For the uninitiated, there will be nothing but the comfort of knowing now what they have been missing.”
Cesareo Contreras can be reached at 508-626-3957 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @cesareo_r.