Bellingham’s Drive-In Theaters

In the 20th century, just as the rise of the automobile as a primary mode of private transportation  gave rise to motor courts and “motor hotels” (motels), so to did it give rise to a new and novel form of entertainment: the drive in movie. For a reasonable price, the entire family could see a double feature under the stars without having to leave their car (with the exception of leaving the car to procure snacks at theater snack bars that judiciously advertised their goodies with quaint and entertaining film shorts during intermission).

In 1958, approximately 4000 drive-ins were in operation in the U.S. Today, there are only around 350 drive-in theaters that remain open.  [source] The reasons for this decline require little elucidation: the widespread proliferation of home video, the rise of multiplex theaters, the disappearance of “family night” with the general dissolution of the classic American “nuclear family.” Washington State saw this decline in drive-in venues, as well, as detailed in the following numbers–



All three of Bellingham’s drive theaters are gone now, as is the one – The Holiday – that stood in the county. And while Jennifer Scherer Janische, CEO of Drive on In, Inc., notes that Drive-ins are enjoying something of a resurgence, accompanied by expansion or reopening of existing venues, and even the construction of brand new facilities [source], I must in all honesty say that I do not see this happening in the City of Bellingham, WA, anytime soon, for a complex of reasons. But I could be wrong. I hope so.

Now, for a walk down memory lane. Unable to acquire any photos of either our historic Motor-Vu or Moonlite Drive-ins, I have turned to aerial photographs of the city to develop a timeline of their presence across the years. I have done the same for the Samish Twin, which closed in 2002 after a thirty-year run, having opened in 1972. And I throw in a few other odds and ends, as well.

According to, the Motor-Vue was opened in 1955 and demolished in 75 or 76.

According to, the Moonlite Drive-In opened in 1955 and was demolished in 1978, or 79, to make way for the Meridian Village Shopping Center.

Built in 1971 and opened in 1972, this was the youngest drive-in theater in the state. While still possessing a loyal clientele at its time of closing in 2002 (Article, WWU Western Front: “Samish Twin Drive-In to be Demolished”) it simply could not prevail under the various economic pressures placed upon it. It is now a “Park ‘n Ride” lot (see photos)
There is an online photo gallery with shots of the Samish Twin, including a shot of the interior of the snack bar.

And finally, in what seems a fitting image to close out this post, we have the following shot of one of the signs from the Holiday Drive-In Theater, in Whatcom County, contributed to the Bellingham Facebook Group by Michael Unick.

Holiday Drive-In Sign

Valley view rd, at Birchbay Lynden and I-5 exit. Image by Michael Unick.

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