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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Then and Now: East Sprague Drive-In Theater

America married its love of cars and movies in the concept of the drive-in theater.

There were several drive-ins around Spokane from the 1940s to the 1980s. A few lasted until the early 1990s. The Auto-Vue in Colville closed just last year. A family could take a fussy baby to the drive-in and no one complained. You could park near your friends and chat. Kids could play on a swing set near the screen. And, of course, a young couple could find some window-fogged privacy. It was a short walk to the concession stand for popcorn and soda.

Few loved the movies as much as businessman Joseph Rosenfield. Born and raised in the Midwest, he began managing theaters as a young man. He came to Spokane in 1935 to manage Evergreen Theaters. In 1943 he started his own chain, Favorite Theaters. He grew the chain to nine movie houses and drive-ins. He envisioned and built the largest of Spokane’s drive-ins, the East Sprague Drive-in.

Situated near what is now the Sprague curve of Interstate 90, the East Sprague held a thousand cars, making it a busy place on weekend nights. It closed in 1993 in anticipation of a rerouted off-ramp. Some of the other drive-ins were the West End, the North Cedar and the East Trent Motor-In.

Rosenfield sold Favorite Theaters in 1972 but remained active in Spokane business and civic affairs until his death in 1990 at age 84. He served on boards for businesses, the arts, education and the Boy Scouts.

Ticket sellers at drive-in theaters tried to spot which carful of teens was trying to avoid paying. Employee John Carlson, who lived across the street from the East Sprague Drive-In, said someone in his family often saw teens stop and hide their friends in the trunk before rolling up to the ticket window. Then he or someone in his family would call the ticket booth with the info. John’s brother Larry was known to tell cheaters: “That’ll be six bucks. Two for you and $4 for the four guys in the trunk.”

– Jesse Tinsley

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