Lost Memphis: The Bellevue Drive-In
Photo by Vance Lauderdale
In the November issue of Memphis magazine, I tell the dramatic story of the original Summer Drive-In — not the Summer Twin that most of you remember.
Just as a tease for that — a prelude to the glories you can expect — is this wonderful old image of the long-gone Bellevue Drive-In. I took this myself, sometime in the early 1970s, with my trusty 35mm Canon FTb, and if you notice the graininess and blurriness of the photo, I want you to know that I did that on purpose, for sheer artistic effect. Lovely, isn't it?
The Bellevue opened in the early 1950s. I could look up the exact year, but really — must we mire down in such trivial details? I'm trying to tell a story here.
As I was saying, the Bellevue opened in the early 1950s at 2350 South Bellevue. Typical of many drive-ins of that era, the back of the screen served as a highly decorated and highly visible billboard for the theatre — essentially the marquee for the establishment. The Bellevue's sign was especially nice because that cursive script and the floral decorations were all in neon, and the wide vertical bands are a nice touch. The Summer Drive-In, by the way, did not have a decorated screen, but you'll have to wait until November to find out why, exactly.
A fellow named William S. Scott was the manager of the Bellevue, and what's really interesting about these old drive-ins is that the manager often lived inside the screen! It's true; often they would have a nice little apartment installed at the base of the screen, and that's where Scott lived. It must have been a rather surreal existence. He probably had every line and every scene in every single movie memorized.
The fine-looking Bellevue stood like this, abandoned and neglected, for years. I want to say a windstorm later blew down what was left of the screen, but I may have that confused with the Lamar Drive-In, which suffered a similar fate as this one.
New Hope Missionary Baptist Church stands on the site today. Sometimes if you use Google or Bing to look at aerial views of old drive-in theatres, you can still see traces of the fan-shaped rows where the cars parked, but not here. Whoever built the church did a nice job grading the lot level. Not a trace remains of the old theater.