AIR Stillinuse :: the Rustic Drive-In
01 Photo from egrobichaud (Flickr)
Rustic Tri-Vue Drive-In


Google Search the Rustic for Showtimes (typical season is May through September).
The Lonsdale Drive-In Sign (the only thing left) on
The Urban Planet Rustic Drive-In page
The Rustic Drive-In page on
Search for other long lost Drive-Ins.


Ah, the Drive-In. Such a great sign on the highway, such a great thing to still have around. The “golden age of the automobile” may be gone, but something like a Drive-In still has mass retro-appeal. And many reasons to go are pracical ones – for the carload price, a family of four can see TWO movies at more than half the price of a theatre; if the kids fall asleep in the backseat, just drive them home, or continue to watch the movies; if the kids are loud, they don’t bother anyone else; you can set-up outside of your car and bring your own food if you like, using lawn chairs or the backs of pickups and you listen to the movie sound through your own car speakers or a boombox over the radio. How great is that?

The Rustic is the last operating Drive-In in the state, showing movies during the warmer months, from late April to early October every year. Its three screens show three different sets of double-features most days of the week for a bargain carload price. One of the screens (number one) is 60 by 120 feet, the largest in RI.


Built in 1951, the Rustic and drive-in theaters were in their heyday. In 1958 there were 4,063 of them nationwide. Now, there are only a little more than 400. The flat land that drive-in theaters sat on was perfect for countless malls and the acres of parking they required. Today, only the Rustic is left in Rhode Island, while four remain in Massachusetts, the nearest being the Mendon Twin, just north of the Rhode Island line.

During the “golden age of the automobile”, drive-in theatres and other car-oriented concepts were everywhere. Diners had car-hops to bring food out to the car, some churches fleetingly experimented with the drive-in idea, and local tourist traps sprouted up along major thoroughfares to get people out of their cars and into shops to spend money. Rt 146 was one of these roads, especially before the interstate highway (Rt 95) was completed in 1969. The Milk Can ice cream and snack stand was one of these roadside treasures.

Through the 60s and 70s, Drive-Ins suffered closures and general stagnation. Some turned to other sources of income, or other types of movies that had a guaranteed draw. The Rustic went through a period in it’s history where it showed Adult X-rated films. An article in November 1971 detailed the town’s fight to control the content of the Rustic’s screen:

The Town Council has taken a step toward eliminating X-rated movies from the town’s only theater: It upped the license fee from $160 to $18,000 per year. Councilman Robert E. Mowry proposed the motion to charge Rustic Drive-In movie theater $50 per day in fees so it “can no longer operate profitably.” Residents have objected to the theater’s policy of showing two X-rated movies nightly.

Despite hard times for Drive-In owners, Beverly and Clem Desmarais bought the Rustic in 1986 and turned what had been an all-year single-screen “adults only” operation into a three-screen seasonal family-oriented theater. After their passing in 2001, their daughter, Beth, took over the operations. Although the asphalt is crumbling and the snack bar hasn’t had an upgrade since anyone can remember, Desmarais points out that the Rustic puts together spectacular double features to draw customers. Rhode Islander’s just love a bargain.

The Desmarais family sold the drive-in to the Boston Culinary Group in April, 2008, who will continue to operate the facility. Boston Culinary Group is a privately-owned food service management company that provides food and beverages in the recreation and leisure industry. The company’s theatre division owns and operates 23 theatres throughout the northeast managing all aspects of theatre operations, including the projection booth, concessions stands and box offices.

“This year (2009) we will be offering a Rhode Island clamcakes and quahog chowder combo,” said a spokesperson for the Boston Culinary Group. Also new to the menu, she said, will be fried dough.

Richard Hollingshead Jr. opened the first drive-in movie theater in 1933. He was a young sales manager at his dad’s Whiz Auto Products who had a hankering to invent something that combined his two interests: cars and movies. He experimented in his own driveway at 212 Thomas Avenue, Camden, New Jersey with a 1928 Kodak projector on the hood of his car, projected onto a screen he had nailed to trees in his backyard, and used a radio placed behind the screen for sound. The first patent for the Drive-In Theater was issued on May 16, 1933 and Richard opened the first on June 6, 1933 at a location on Crescent Boulevard, Camden, New Jersey.

Jo Jan 30 2019 They don’t fix the parking lot so that people are forced to drive slow so that no car accidents happen. If they fixed it, then cars would zoom across the lot and hit people or other cars, and to anyone claiming that the ground is “too dangerous to walk on,” learn how to walk correctly. A great place to go.

Zack Jan 24 2016 I can still remember the first time I went to the rustic. Let’s see… I was all of 6 MAYBE 7 years old. My mother owned a 1999 Daewoo (anyone remember Hyundai’s hick cousin?) Nubria station wagon in a pine green color (early CD changer in the freaking trunk. WTF!). One day, my mother suggested we go to the Rustic to see Finding Nemo and the ever-classy Rugrats go Wild (not in that order). At the time, Burger King was giving out scratch-n-sniff cards FOR the latter film. So, we arrived, I wasn’t allowed to go to the snack bar (popcorn from home.), and I remember watching both movies, and then nothing else. Fast forward to freshman year-ish. I was 14, maybe 15. That summer, my mother and I went back. I can’t remember what we saw, but I know we had fun. That trip began the tradition of yours truly making runs to the snack bar (I’d advise against the burgers, but recommend the new soft serve stand), for dinner, popcorn, snacks. Of course, it’s pepsi, and I’m not a pepsi person, so we bring soda, candy, chips, etc. from home. I’ve seen movies like Men in Black 3, Neighbors, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and the super-classy A million ways to Die in the West. My best friend Jamar and I make it a point to go multiple times each season. Thank god for hilly real estate not being valuable. That’s what eats up places like the Shipyard, the Hilltop, etc. Eh, progress DOES have its price, as they say.

Tom Quinn Apr 7 2015 The Rustic may not be perfect, but where else can you go with your family to see two first run movies for $25? Bring folding chairs or sit back in your car, or bring sleeping bags for your pick-up truck and park backwards. The Rustic is once again a solid night of entertainment for your family

tim Jan 12 2014 Is it me or does everyone ignore the obvious penis marquee. just saying.

Darlene Jan 12 2014 They charge $25/ car load, but they have not done any updates to the parking area since I was a child (I am 45). The tar is broken up. Also, if your not watching a movie on the MAIN screen, you are sitting on a LEAN as the park was for one screen but they later added 2 more on the sides that is NOT comfortable to watch movies… I have NOT been in years for this fact ALONE.

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