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Movie Magic: Behind the 67-year allure of the Holiday Auto Theatre

By Morgan Nguyen, For The Miami Student

The Holiday Auto Theatre has entertained local audiences with both galactic stars and movie stars for more than half a century since 1948. The Hamilton area drive-in theatre offers a timeless setting under the night sky with a weekly rotating stream of newly released movies.

Co-owner of the theatre, Todd Chancey, said the classic part of the Hamilton theatre is an open, more relaxed atmosphere.

"The thing that keeps it alive is that [patrons] can bring their family, come in a car and have some freedom," Chancey said. "They can go into grassy area and throw a ball, get brand name treats from the concession stand … it's kind of a tailgate atmosphere."

Previously known as the Hamilton Outdoor Theatre, it was founded in 1948 and showed "Black Gold" as its debut feature presentation Sept. 3 of that year. Later that year, it was bought by National Amusements and renamed the Holiday Auto Theatre.

Today, the Holiday Auto Theatre is still enjoyed by families and college students alike. It changed hands a few times over the years until Chancey along and Mark Althoetmar acquired in 2007.

College students enjoy the theatre, as it is within driving distance for most. Sophomore Kaitlyn Cress visited earlier in the summer to see "Inside Out."

"I was on campus for a job in the middle of July and went with the other student workers," Cress said. "It was a great way to get to know each other."

Cress also spoke about the novelty of the experience. With the backdrop of the movie's audio playing on the car radio, Cress and her group enjoyed a great bonding experience.

"[Drive in] theatres are just different than normal ones. There are so few, and it's a nice way to see a movie without sitting in a gross, dirty movie theatre," Cress said. "And they're usually a bit cheaper, which his nice."

Chancey and Althoetmar strive to provide family experiences by hosting themed events throughout the year, most notably a family friendly New Years Eve and Terror at the Drive In around Halloween.

"For Terror at the Drive In we have both new scary movies and some classics," Chancey said. "We hire folks dressed as characters in that movie to walk around by the cars, so you see the character in the movie then right outside your window; it's really a good scare."

Highlights from the past include a Batman parachuting into the theatre during the Dark Knight premiere in 2008 and themed events for Indiana Jones complete with boa and python snakes.

For sophomore Jared Calihan, who grew up in Hamilton, such highlights were common and trips to the theatre were a staple of childhood.

"The first movie I saw was Tarzan," Calihan said. "It was my favorite movie memory there. My whole family went; there were 10 of us. It was neat because we took my uncle's truck and put lawn chairs in the bed."

Calihan describes the environment as more alive than the usual indoor movie theatre.

"There are people walking to the concession stand, little murmurs, you see the other silhouetted people. It's a nice little escape from reality," Calihan said. "I think drive-in theatre's give a great sense of nostalgia."

Over Labor Day weekend this year, the theatre ran its annual triple feature, the target audience increasing with the hour. On the queue were "Minions," "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation" and "Vacation."

"A lot of students go on weekends in the fall," Calihan said. "You go more for the experience than the movie itself; so you can have fun no matter what you see."

Chancey and Althoetmar try to choose the newest releases with the widest appeal, most being family friendly. The two owners are both former Disney employees, who helped create an engaging drive-in experience, complete with a newly digital projection system and a spider carnival park ride coming soon.

The experience is complimented by the company one is with.

"The theatre is great for date nights, friends, family outings. Literally anything," Cress said.

This coming weekend students can continue this tradition and pair a cool September night with either "Jurassic World" or "The Gift."