The North Division Drive-In at the Y Circa 1952

The Y Drive-In of Spokane

In the 1970's the City Corporation Council warned Spokane to "clean up its ordinance" after receiving complaints from church groups that the old drive-in theater at the Y was playing pornographic films.

In 1952, Spokane opened its fourth drive-in movie theater at the North Division Y. It was just a few years after the first drive-in on East Sprague opened in 1949. In the 1950's business was good for drive-ins. At theaters like the Y, theater owners could cram up to 700 paying customers for each film.

The drive-in theater was the perfect past time for 1950's Americans, who were equally obsessed with automobiles and film. By 1960 there were more than 5,000 drive-ins in the United States. Notable films that played at The North Division Y Drive-In over the years included "Country Girl" with Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly, "Heller in Pink Tights" with Sophia Loren. Attendance began to drop later that decade, with the rise of television and other competing entertainments.

Theater owners often tried to boost attendance with racy fare, and the drive-in at the Y soon had a reputation for specializing in movies such as "Atom Age Vampire" and "Sex Kittens Go to College."

Spokane City Councilwoman Marilyn M. Stanton referred to the drive-in as "the hottest place in town," and noted that many teenagers planted themselves on a nearby hillside to watch the racy films. Stanton lobbied to ban the films but little was done, aside from a warning issued by the City Corporation Council asking Spokane to "clean up its ordinance."

When church-sponsored court charges were brought against the theater for "corrupting the moral fiber of the youth," commission members shot it down. They had "no legal power to stop the films."

The drive-in theater as an American Institution eventually went "the way of the silent film" by the 1990s. Spokane's last drive-in closed in 1994.