The 1950s were known for their fast and fashionable cars. Salt Lake City’s Redwood Drive-in provided these automobile enthusiasts with an impressive alternative to their movie-going experience, complete with magic moonglow and pony rides.
The United Intermountain Theaters Association opened the Redwood Drive-in on July 22, 1949, and the first movie to be featured on the forty-six by sixty screen was The Big Cat in technicolor. The drive-in theater cost a total of $140,000 and was designed to provide families with a wide variety of entertainment opportunities. Advertisements described the complex as being both a theater and playground, and it featured picnic tables, barbecue pits, wading pools, swing sets, and train and pony rides. Architects designed the lot to accommodate up to 600 cars at once, but they also constructed a seating area for guests who preferred to enjoy the film outside of their vehicles. The drive-in provided comforts such as individual speakers for each car, a button to request refreshments, and bottle warmers for its youngest visitors. One of the most impressive features of the setting was its “magic moonglow” light fixture, which provided the illusion of a full moon each night to help guests navigate through the site in the dark. The day before the Redwood’s grand opening, the Deseret News reported that there were 2,784 electric light bulbs on the backside of the screen tower alone.
The drive-in served more than just Salt Lake City’s entertainment needs; the complex also hosted political advocacy and entrepreneurial events. For example, in October 1949, the Redwood hosted a special show for adults only. Titled The Burning Question, the show was an informational film warning against marijuana use and advising parents about how to protect their children from this illegal drug. And in 1960, the Redwood began regularly hosting a swap meet where vendors could buy and sell their belongings or other goods. Artists also utilized this to their benefit. In 1995, a Navajo artist, Ronnie Yazzie, began selling his art at the Redwood, where he met his most important sponsors and clients. The Redwood continues to host the Swap Meet, and it has become a popular community event.
Over the course of its history, the Redwood has undergone many changes technologically and on its grounds. In 1961, over $200,000 were invested into renovations which included new speakers, bigger bathrooms, an upgraded playground, a new snack bar, a larger screen, and general landscaping. On September 18, 1994, a fire in the middle of the night destroyed the central screen, resulting in thousands of dollars in damage. To the relief of the community, the fire did not close the Redwood forever. It continues to be a community favorite for both local families and visitors alike.