Drive-in Returns to Suffolk Downs for the First Time in 50 years

The 1950s and 1960s were the height of the drive-in movie theater craze that swept the U.S. and was immortalized in such films depicting the era like Grease and the Last Picture Show.

In East Boston, the Suffolk Downs Drive-In that opened in the mid 1950s and has been closed for a number of years will be revived starting this Thursday.

HYM Investments Group, who is developing the Suffolk Downs site into a large mixed use development, announced it is returning the drive-in to Suffolk Downs after a 50 year absence.

“As we plan for the long-term redevelopment of the site, we are looking at different ways to honor Suffolk Downs’ rich entertainment history,” said Thomas O’Brien, founding partner and managing director of The HYM Investment Group. “We saw an opportunity with a drive-in movie series to provide the East Boston and Revere communities with events that can be enjoyed safely during the current public health crisis, while also offering family-friendly and culturally-diverse programming to reflect the rich diversity of the community here.”

HYM will host a summer-long Weekly Movie Series  starting Thursday July 16 through Sept. 10.

The first two films to be shown will be “Grease” on July 16 and “Field of Dreams” on July 23. Movie will be announced biweekly at The Summer Screen at Suffolk Downs aims to curate a collection of movies as diverse as the community of Eastie and surrounding cities and towns.

Films will satisfy various ages, audiences, and cultures, including Spanish language movies.

O’Brien said the event space will have capacity for 300 vehicles, with a limit of up to six people per vehicle. Viewers will be able to park their cars on-site to enjoy movies every Thursday. Each vehicle will be parked 6 feet apart from each other, attendees will remain in their cars unless going to the bathroom or a food truck, and attendees will be required to wear a mask any time they are outside of their vehicle.

All events will require one ticket per car to enter and tickets will cost $15. All visitors should practice city and state recommendations on social distancing.

Many residents recall the old drive-in and the memories made there as a place where teens of the era would meet, a place to take a date and a weekly summer tradition for entire Eastie families that would put their children in pajamas and watch the latest films from their cars.

And everyone that grew up during that time has fond memories of the unique drive-in that was under a Logan Airport flightpath and in a marsh. Yes, the noise and bugs were sometimes a problem but everyone agreed it was a lot of fun and full of great memories.

“I went on a date there with my now husband,” said Phyllis Campagna D’Amato. “I was not supposed to go for a drive in. I had to be home at 9:30 pm. Of course we didn’t notice the time and I was in a panic because now I was late getting home. We quickly left the drive in but forgot to take the speaker out of the window and it smashed his car window.”

Like the drive-in scene straight out of Grease, Ray Poirier said he remembers years ago they would charge per person so he’d guide his friends in the trunk. Eventually the drive-in operators caught on to the teen prank and started charging $5 per car for admittance.

JoAnne Overlan Vitiello said her dad never really liked the drive-in, but her mother did and  convinced him to take her and her brother from time to time. 

“We hid under a blanket so my parents only paid for two people,” said Vitiello. “One time when we were leaving, my brother forgot to take the speaker out of the window and it pulled out the speaker and broke the window. Needless to say that was the last time we went as kids. However, when I went as a teenager we would go in two or three cars and park beside each other and bring pepperoni and provolone with fresh Italian bread and pass it from car to car.”

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