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Queens Chronicle

Movies by moonlight, a first in NYS

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Posted: Thursday, August 1, 2013 10:30 am

On the site of the old Curtiss Field, just over the Queens-Nassau border on Sunrise Highway in Valley Stream, the first open-air automobile movie theater (as it was originally called) opened on Aug. 10, 1938. It was the first drive-in in New York State and the 15th in the United States.

The Sunrise Drive-in was the brainchild of Michael Redstone, originally Rothstein (1902-1987). Redstone is a literal translation of the German-Jewish name Rothstein.

His company, Redstone Theaters, would later become National Amusements, and his son, Sumner Redstone, would turn it into a global media giant.

With the construction of LaGuardia Airport on the site of North Beach in Queens, Curtiss Field became obsolete. Nearby Queens residents were very pleased as they no longer had the old noisy prop planes buzzing above their heads.

The 12-acre tract accommodated 500 cars per showing. The basis of the parking was the arrangement of semi-circular ramps which would elevate the front and depress the rear of each car so the occupants could see over the cars closer to the screen.

Many a Queens resident had their very first date here. But not everything went well. Over the years some teens fell asleep with the engine running and fumes leaking into their cars, killing them. Lawsuits ensued, along with higher insurance costs, and the theater closed down in 1978. It was replaced by the Sunrise Multiplex Cinema, which can show many movies at one time, thereby increasing profits tremendously.

Unfortunately Queens residents will never again know the thrill of being in a car with a first date watching a movie, at least not around here.

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