Check out this local favorite near Weiss Lake.
At the peak of their popularity in the 1950s, there were some 4,000 drive-in theaters across the United States. This was a huge boom considering the first drive-in appeared in New Jersey in 1933. People moving to the suburbs following World War II were looking for family-friendly entertainment, and what could be better than dinner and a movie right there in your car, under the stars, the smell of popcorn on the breeze, where you could roll the windows up if the kids got too loud?
Alabama’s first was the Hatfield Drive-In in Athens, which first flipped on its projector in 1949. After that, according to Cinema Treasures, a drive-in wave swept the state through the early ‘50s, including Woody’s in Huntsville, King Drive-In in Russellville, Marshall Drive-In in Albertville, Grove in Gadsden and, in 1953, the 411 Twin Drive-In in Centre.
Emory Johnson built the 411 Twin Drive-In after returning from service in the Korean War. Johnson’s father, Glover, was the owner and operator of the Cherokee Theatre, Centre’s first walk-in theater. The drive-in ran for the next 30 years. For some historical perspective, the Best Picture in 1953 was Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Greatest Show on Earth,” a behind-the-scenes look at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. In 1983, Richard Attenborough’s “Gandhi” took home the Oscar for Best Picture, Director and Actor.
Although the suburbs were still thriving and there were more cars on the road than ever, drive-ins couldn’t compete with the VCR. In one ad from the early ‘80s, Sony promised you could “WATCH WHATEVER WHENEVER.”
It turned out the 411 Drive-In was only taking an extended commercial break. Beginning in the late-1990s, America began feeling nostalgic for the drive-in experience.
In 2001, Johnson, along with his sons Rex and Cal, continued their family business into the third generation. They put a new film on the projector and fired it up after nearly 20 years. If the jump from 0 to 4,000 drive-in theaters over 20 years was impressive, it’s a small miracle that the 411 was one of 348 theaters still operating in 2014.
Prior to its reopening in 2001, the Cherokee County Herald reported that the Johnsons refurbished the original 411 screen, which stands as a monument to the past.
“It’s different nowadays,” Emory Johnson said. Gone are the days of clunky window speakers, replaced now with FM stereophonic sound. Gone are the grainy films that required constant attention, replaced with state-of-the-art digital projectors.
Seven years after its reopening, the 411 Drive-In added a second screen, and it’s still going strong. The theater is open year-round Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and seven nights a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. If you ask the folks at 411, “there’s just something different about the drive-in experience that keeps people coming back: pickup trucks pulled in backward, full of lawn chairs, a boom box with laughing kids, the smell of popcorn in the air, blankets spread out on the ground while a summer blockbuster plays on a huge screen, all under the stars.”