Rustic Tri View Drive-In

Lucky for all of us, the Rustic has so far outlasted 13 other drive-ins that operated in Rhode Island since the 1960s

About this Property

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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 of the reasons to continue to flock to the Drive-In go are practical 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 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 single carload price. The parking lot can accommodate 550 cars. Screen number one is 60 by 120 feet, the largest in RI.

The Rustic Tri-View has extended its season due to COVID-19! Socially distanced outdoor movies until the snow starts.


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.

By 1958 there were 4,063 Drive-Ins nationwide — there are fewer than 400 now. 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 prevalent. Roadside diners had car-hops to bring food out to the car, 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 the popular roads where roadside architecture flourished, 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 where it showed Adult R- and 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. 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.

In 2014, to continue playing new movies that are increasingly only available in a digital format, the Rustic switched from 35mm film to digital projection.