In the spring of 1942, as Americans adjusted to the everyday reality of living in a country at war, Lima residents could find escape watching “Rio Rita” with Abbott and Costello at the Ohio Theater, or the Dead End Kids in “Mob Town” at the State, or perhaps catch a double bill of monster movies at the Sigma.
Or they could wait until dusk, drive south on South Dixie Highway to Breese Road, and enjoy a movie without leaving their cars. “The opening of one of the first outdoor movie ‘palaces’ in the Lima area was announced by H.R. Shock, a local Service dairy operator,” The Lima News reported on April 30, 1942. “Shock explained that 350 cars could be accommodated in his outdoor arena. The screen will carry 24-by-33-foot picture projections.”
Attendants would be on hand to direct traffic and cars would be “piloted to their places without the necessity of glaring headlights to disturb other patrons,” the newspaper explained, adding that “windshield wipe off service likewise will be provided …”
When it opened May 1, 1942, with a showing of “Great Guns” starring Laurel and Hardy, the Lima Drive-In was one of only 11 drive-in theaters in Ohio and 95 nationally, according to the website driveintheater.com. The Lima News in January 1948 wrote that the Lima Drive-In was the 17th to be built in the United States.
A decade later, Horace Shock, the man behind the Lima, was again getting ahead of consumer trends with a proposal for a shopping center on West Elm Street. Although that plan fizzled, the three drive-in theaters Shock built around Lima during the late 1940s and in 1950 — the Lima, Sharon, and Gloria — would be part of the area’s landscape for more than four decades.
Shock was born Oct. 25, 1910, in Allen County, the son of Harley O. and Lillie Potts Shock. He married Eunice Shock in 1934 and the couple had two daughters, Gloria and Sharon, the namesakes of two of his drive-ins, and a son, Randy.
Hampered by World War II shortages, drive-ins would not become commonplace until after World War II when Americans could fill their tanks with unrationed gasoline and embrace a new world built around the automobile. While only six drive-ins were built during the war, by 1948 there were 820 across the U.S. and by 1958, the height of the baby boom, there were close to 5,000.
When it opened in 1942, the Lima Drive-In had a concession stand with service windows on both sides, one for patrons of the drive-in and the other for passersby on South Dixie Highway. It also had a primitive sound system with speakers mounted on the screen tower and around the parking area blasting out movie dialogue and music, which made nearby residents unwilling participants in the outdoor move experience. They sued in August 1942. The lawsuit was dropped after the inventive Shock made and installed his own in-car speakers, according to the website cinematreasures.com.
The improved speakers also were installed in Shock’s other drive-in, the Gloria, which opened in May 1946. When plans for the Gloria were announced in October 1945, The Lima News wrote, “The individual speakers for each car, with separate volume control, will be the main feature.”
The Gloria, two miles north of Lima on North Dixie Highway, could accommodate approximately 600 cars with a screen “40 feet wide and 30 feet high, almost twice the size as that of the other drive-in theater located on Dixie Highway south,” The Lima News wrote in announcing plans for the Gloria in October 1945.
But the speakers, though improved, still did not work well, so Shock went to work improving them further. “Shock, who dropped out of the dairy business nearly six years ago, Saturday announced the formation of the Lima Speaker, Inc., which will manufacture outdoor theater speaking devices with innovations patented by Shock,” the News reported on Jan. 11, 1948. The new company, which was housed in a building near the Lima Drive-In, according to the newspaper, would produce speakers “designed primarily to produce a speaker that will withstand all types of weather.”
To test it, The Lima News added, “one of the speakers was submerged in water overnight, frozen in a block of ice, then baked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit …”
Shock added a third drive-in in 1950. “Sharon Drive-In theater, located on West Elm Street Road, a half mile west of Cable Road, will open Friday evening,” The Lima News wrote June 25, 1950, adding that the theater was “Lima’s third and largest …” With room for 650 cars, the theater, the newspaper noted, had “lighted two-lane entrances and exits, recessed front panel lighting, sodium vapor theater lighting and direct lighting at each car speaker…” A fourth Lima drive-in, the Springbrook on North West Street Road, also opened in 1950. It was not owned by Shock.
On July 19, 1950, less than a month after the Sharon opened, a tornado ripped through Lima causing millions in damage. “The drama began at 4:50 p.m. Wednesday,” The Lima News wrote the following day. “The principal, a funnel-shaped writhing thing that fascinated and horrified, went on stage near the Sharon outdoor theater against a gray-black sky backdrop.” The tornado “made a skeleton of the huge screen and nearby parts of the” Sharon, according to the News. On March 5, 1964, a “shrieking wind” whistled through the area, toppling the screen at the Lima, which fell onto the entrance and office building. Both drive-ins were rebuilt.
By 1954, the man who built the drive-ins no longer operated them. Shock, who also had interests in drive-in theaters in Marion, Van Wert and Fort Wayne, signed a lease turning over the operation of his Lima drive-ins to a Cleveland firm. His wife, Eunice, continued operating Shock Enterprises, according to cinematreasures.com.
Shock, however, was anything but retired. In May 1952, he revealed plans to build a $2 million shopping center to be known as Westwood Plaza on land adjacent to the Sharon. Shock envisioned a V-shaped plaza opening to the east with side-by-side stores. “They would be individual stores connected by a wide sidewalk which would be covered by a sheltering roof that would keep shoppers from the elements,” the News wrote in a September 2009 story.
West Elm Street beyond Cable Road was lightly populated in 1952, the News noted, but “those who did live in the area told the zoning commission they were not open to change.” Local sentiment, generally, tended to be against the new suburban centers, the News wrote, and the Shock’s plan died as potential tenants backed out and the extension of a banknote to provide cash flow was denied. Northland Plaza, Lima’s first shopping center, opened in 1956 with Westgate opening soon after.
The 64-year-old Shock, who served eight years on the Allen County School Board and was a past president of the Shawnee board, died May 1, 1975. Eunice Shock died at the age of 91 on Nov. 21, 2004.
The Lima Drive-In was closed in 1977 and dismantled with the Gloria following in 1988. In 1991, the Sharon, the last drive-in still operating in the immediate Lima area, was dismantled. The Springbrook was closed in 1987.