The Lakewood Drive-In Theater. Photo courtesy Library of Congress.

Local History is a weekly feature that looks at the people, places and events of Long Beach’s past. Have a question or a piece of history you want us to explore? Email [email protected]. Want his historical columns in your inbox? Sign up for the This Week in History newsletter here

One easy way to get polio in the late 1940s and on into the 1950s was to catch a movie in a crowded theater. That applied to COVID, as well, which is why theaters, along with most everything else that was entertaining, closed during the height of the pandemic.

But COVID didn’t stop movie-goers from enjoying movies and the old drive-in theaters that, while previously relegated to the nostalgia bin, saw a comeback in 2020.

That resurgence sparked joy among those who recalled the days of motoring into drive-in lots at dusk back in the 1950s and on into the 1990s. What cinematic fans might lose in picture quality they gained in a number of other areas. Such as holding polio at bay.

A Circle Drive-In grand-opening advertisement in April 1951 touted the fact that its patrons could enjoy smoking, could “come as you are,” would be protected from flu and polio, wouldn’t have to worry about finding a babysitter and could “enjoy complete privacy”—this latter advantage was not lost on an entire generation high-school and college fans of film and other, shall we say, areas of interest.

The first drive-in movie theater in Long Beach was the Lakewood Drive-In, which opened on Aug. 26, 1948, at 2120 Carson St. at Cherry Avenue. The manager of the $300,000 theater touted the fact that parents can bring their kids in their pajamas and toss them in the back seat to fall asleep and then put them to bed after the movie. “It’s that simple,” he said.

The theater featured a six-story-tall screen and opened with “The Green Grass of Wyoming” and “Raw Deal.”

The drive-in enjoyed a good 42-year run, the longest of Long Beach’s al fresco theater spots, closing on Sept. 3, 1990, with the double feature of “Shrimp on the Barbie” and “Arachnophobia.”

Next to pop up was the Circle Drive-In with a showing of “Raton Pass” and “Stage to Houston” on April 4, 1951.

The Circle, at Pacific Coast Highway and Ximeno Avenue on the Traffic Circle, was hailed as the most modern drive-in, featuring state-of-the-art RCA projector throwing the movie up on a 70-foot-high screen in front of 1,000 cars with guests listening on clear speakers.

The theater’s snack bar had an 85-foot-long counter and 16-foot windows where people could still watch the film while ordering snacks—sound was piped in, as well.

Sound was also piped into the maternity ward at Community Hospital, high above the Circle Drive-In, where mothers and near-mothers could see the screen from their rooms.

The Circle soldiered on for 34 years, finally closing with a double-bill of “After the Fall of New York” and “Humanoids from the Deep” on Jan. 31, 1985.

The Long Beach Drive-In at 223rd Street and Santa Fe Avenue came next, opening on July 6, 1955, with “Land of the Pharaohs” and “7 Angry Men.” It wasn’t as fondly remembered as the other drive-in in the city, and it picked up some pocket change by hosting swap meets on weekends until it closed on Dec. 12, 1979, after 24 years, the shortest-lived of the Long Beach drive-ins.

The Los Altos Drive-In opened in 1956 to serve the suddenly booming east side of town from its location at 2800 Bellflower Blvd., now a Champion Chevrolet dealership. It started as a single-screen theater with a capacity of 2,100 cars. Los Altos opened with a screening of “Son of Sinbad” and “Rage at Dawn.”

It eventually grew so popular as the population skyrocketed in the area that it expanded to a three-screen theater in the summer of 1972. Like the other drive-ins, the acreage that was required eventually caught the eyes of developers, and the Los Altos Drive-In was certainly no exception. It lived to the expected life span of 40 years, closing in 1996.

Local history: The worst movie made in Long Beach — or anywhere.

Tim Grobaty is a columnist and the Opinions Editor for the Long Beach Post. You can reach him at 562-714-2116, email [email protected], @grobaty on Twitter and Grobaty on Facebook.