Who Remembers the Old Hamptons Drive-In? (Hint: It was in Bridgehampton)

Howard Kanovitz, (American, 1929-2009) "Hampton's Drive-In," 1974. Acrylic on canvas 42" x 90." Parrish Art Museum, Gift of the Howard Kanovitz Foundation and Museum purchase, with funds provided by Dorothy Lichtenstein, the Parrish Art Museum's Collector's Circle, and Barbara Slifka.

The Hamptons Drive-In Theatre opened in July 1955 and was located on the site of what is now the Bridgehampton Commons shopping plaza. Built by Prudential Theatres and operated later by United Artist Theatres, it closed in 1983 to make way for the new shopping center.

In August 2010, Hank deCillia, a longtime Bridgehampton resident who worked at the theater, wrote a column for The Sag Harbor Express in which he shared his memories of working at the old drive-in.

“I worked two summers for retired NYPD Officer Frank Gilligan at the Hamptons Drive-In movie theater in Bridgehampton,” wrote deCillia, “parking fancy cars for the rich women who couldn’t get into their spaces, repairing speakers ripped out when people left them in their car after the show was over, working in the concessions stand during the intermission between features, mowing the lawn around the parking area, and, best of all, changing the sign out front on the Montauk Highway every week when the new movies arrived.

“Every night, Frank would have me open the back exit to let in the sharecroppers who would walk in with blankets and take the back row, putting the speakers on the ground because they didn’t have cars.”

About the painting “Hampton’s Drive-In,” 1974, by Howard Kanovitz:

“The use of photographs as an abstraction of the three-dimensional world is a starting point for paintings by American photorealist pioneer Howard Kanovitz, who began visiting Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline on the South Fork in the 1950s, and lived in Southampton from 1995 until his death in 2009,” explains Alicia Longwell, chief curator at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill.

“One sunny but cool day in 1972, Kanovitz set out from his Second Avenue studio in New York City to drive to Long Island: ‘… Gonna paint a picture but first we have to take some pictures.’

“Pulling over to the shoulder of the road at the Hamptons Drive-In, Kanovitz photographed the expanse of the drive-in, later painting a picture that captured the fading light at dusk — the very moment before the movie comes on. Now a nostalgic look at a part of East End history, Kanovitz captures an iconic part of East End history.”