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.

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About This Blog

Ask Vance is the blog of Vance Lauderdale, the award-winning columnist of Memphis magazine and MBQ: Inside Memphis Business.  Vance is the author of three books: Ask Vance: The Best Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History and Trivia Expert (2003), as well as Ask Vance: More Questions and Answers from Memphis Magazine's History Expert (2011) and Vance Lauderdale's Lost Memphis (2013). He is also the recipient of quite a few nice awards, the creator of several eye-catching wall calendars, and the only person we know with a vintage shock-treatment machine in his den. 

You can find him from time to time in the pages of the Memphis Flyer and MBQ, on WKNO television, and on Facebook. When he is not exploring the highways and byways of Memphis, he spends his time sleeping, napping, and dozing.

Got a question for Vance?  Email him here.

Find Vance's old blog posts (pre-April 2011) and comments here.

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