In the earlier days of cinema, before multi-screen theaters rose to prominence, the hottest trend in movie-watching was the drive-in theater. Patrons could enjoy a movie from the comfort of their cars; it’s a concept that has seen a small revival recently as COVID-19 has made indoor theaters a danger zone.
Several drive-ins popped up throughout Jacksonville between the 1940s and 1960s, but few were as popular – or as large – as the Normandy Drive-In Theatre.
Normany Outdoor Theater, as it was first known, opened in the late ’40s at Normandy Boulevard and Lenox Avenue on the Westside. Designed by architect F. Earl DeLoe, the $250,000 outdoor theater could accommodate well over 1,000 vehicles. It featured a double-sided screen, with rows of parking on each side; additional land on the property became home to a large children’s playground and even a small petting zoo.
Initially managed by Tropical Park Theaters, the Normandy theater was acquired by Loew’s Theaters in 1955. Loew’s, a well-known East Coast theater operator, was just beginning to expand into drive-ins after years of operating single-screen movie houses.
Unfortunately, a change in Loew’s ownership – as well as the start of a change in movie-viewing habits – led to the company selling off many of its larger, more valuable properties for redevelopment. Sure enough, the Normandy’s property found a suitor; the theater was “demolished” in the mid-‘60s to make room for a new standalone Montgomery Ward department store. Within a few years, a local development group built an enclosed shopping mall around the existing Ward’s building, covering the remainder of the former theater property.
The theater has now been gone for over 50 years, and even the mall that replaced it has since been redeveloped. But many longtime Jax residents still have cherished memories of seeing movies at the Normandy Drive-In as children.