FORT WORTHS MANSFIELD DRIVE-IN

Posted: November 10, 2007 in The Roper Files

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And now for our final chapter in the history of Fort Worth Drive-Ins. The Mansfield was the last operating drive-in theater in Tarrant County. During the 80’s I watched the sad demise of the Cherry Lane and the Southside (not the mention the huge 4-screen Century over in Grand Prairie) By 1986, the Mansfield was It. 

A stones throw from the Federal Corrections Center (home to some of the real-life Goodfellows and several coke-head athletes) on East Seminary just off loop 820, the Mansfield was a fairly large theater capable of holding about a thousand cars. Unlike the Southside or the Cherry Lane, the Mansfield showed conventional Hollywood movies as opposed to the low-budget slasher flicks. Just like the Cherry Lane however, the Mansfield would get two Hollywood hit movies and run them for months, changing the “B” feature weekly and rotating the main movies back and forth between their two screens. BEVERLY HILLS COP, ANGEL,MISSING IN ACTION; these would be there for months. 

 Every once in a while they would run a cool double horror feature like the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE with the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and believe me those were special evenings indeed. Remember the opening of the original CHAINSAW? If you’ve never seen it projected on a huge outdoor screen under the stars while sitting on a tailgate, you’ve never really seen it. 

The neighborhood the Mansfield was in was predominatly black, so needless to say my friends and I were usually the only honkies in the place. Never had any problems though. The night they showed NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, some black guy knocks on the window of Toms van right after the movie ended startling us both. Turns out he just needed a jump, which we gladly gave him. “Dat sho was a scary movie, huh?” he says attempting conversation while we drunkenly fumbled with the jumper cables by flashlight. 

Fort Worth must have been part of some sort of test market; a lot of movies played the Mansfield that would show up on the shelves of the video store the following week: HELLHOLE, FAT GUY GOES NUTZOID, REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS, DEATH ROW GAMESHOW, HUNTERS BLOOD just to name a few. But their standard fare was mainstream Hollywood dreck: DEATH WISH III, NEW JACK CITY, the Friday the 13th series as well as the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET chapters, etc. 

The advent of cable tv as well as the VCR seemed to take their toll on the Mansfields attendance. Back in the early 80’s I attempted to go there to see APOCALYPSE NOW; there was a long line of cars spilling out of the driveway and way down East Seminary. By the late 80’s the closest I ever saw them come to doing that kind of business again was the premier of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE II, which had a pretty lengthy line for it. But for the most part they seemed to be just kind of floundering.

The last movies I can remember seeing there were ALIEN 3 and BATMAN RETURNS, so 1992 marked the fall of the Mansfield. Everything was torn down shortly afterwards: screens, snack bar etc. Today it is an empty field; a pile of rubble marks where the ticket booth was, the only clue there was ever a drive-in there.

The Astro over off Loop 12 in Dallas lasted until 1999; besides that the closest drive-ins I know about are the Galaxy on I-45 south of Dallas and the Brazos in Granbury.  According to www.drive-ins.com however two or three drive-ins have re-opened in recent years, although they seem to fare better in rural areas against vandalism. There are actually 20 of them still operating in Texas, but the closest one is a good 60-90 minutes drive from here. 

I for one just feel it’s nothing less than a shame that an entire generation of young people will never know the sheer unadulterated fun of watching movies under the stars. The tailgate parties were a form of social bonding unmatched. The intoxicating smell of real popcorn drifting through the air; country music playing through those tinny speakers always seemed appropriate, even though I’m not nuts about country music, especially what passes for it today.  All of these things are just memories now. 

“You see , they say it’s just an old man talking. You laugh at an old man. There’s them that laughs and them that knows better” – the drunk at the beginning of the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 

BR

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