Disney, Porn and Train Cars: The History of Israel’s Only Drive-in Movie Theater

After opening in 1973 with a screening of ‘The Jungle Book,’ Tel Aviv’s Drive-In had a checkered history until its eventual closure in 2000.

The Drive-In movie theater in north Tel Aviv in 1997, three years before its closure. The parking lot could hold 960 cars.
Tali Shani

On March 8, 1973, Haaretz reported on the scheduled opening of Israel’s first drive-in movie theater, in north Tel Aviv. The article noted that two movies would be screened every night – the first for families, the second for adults. The story also said the proposed parking lot was designed to hold 960 cars, and that the ticket price would be determined by the number of passengers in the vehicle. Many people felt the opening of the U.S.-inspired movie theater showed that Israel had “arrived.”

On March 9, two days before the official opening, at which the Walt Disney cartoon “The Jungle Book” was to be shown, Haaretz film critic Yossef Sharik explained how the theater would operate. He also noted that it would be called Drive-In because no one had come up with a suitable Hebrew name.

“Everyone understands the English word, and no one would understand the Hebrew word that would be substituted for it,” Sharik wrote. He also said the concept was quite simple: Viewers would drive up to the gate, stop and then pay for each person in the car (“Children under 6 free,” he noted). He added that after finding a parking space, the driver would place “a speaker hanging on a hook” inside the car. This would allow everyone to enjoy the movie – projected onto a giant asbestos screen measuring more than 6,200 square feet (576 square meters), while reading the 62-centimeter-high subtitles.

About a week after the opening, a Haaretz reader named Avraham Ne’eman sent a letter to the editor in which he listed the disadvantages of the arrangement, especially with regard to safety. He said the exit from Drive-In involved going through a level crossing without signals or a barrier. Also, people who were watching the movies for free by sitting on the hill near the Tel Aviv University campus opposite risked their lives each time the train passed. Ne’eman also complained about traffic jams on Rokach Boulevard as a result of the new attraction.

The lust picture show

In the early 1980s, the management started screening pornographic movies (at midnight). This development gave some residents of Tel Aviv the sudden urge to commune with nature late at night, especially for those willing to climb over the railway embankment, sit on folding chairs and watch the silent movie for free. Porn films tend not to be that dialogue-heavy, and the occasional whistle of a passing train was the only soundtrack for these viewers.

In March 1990, Yehuda Koren wrote an article in Haaretz describing the viewing experience. “At around 12:30 A.M., the steam whistle sounded ... we all reveled in the great talent of the director, who complemented his work of art with unusual effects ... While we were still marveling at the contribution made by the whistle and the rushing sound of train cars, from the left side of the screen an actual train appeared, with no less than 28 cars that disappeared, one after another, behind the thighs of the leading actress. The perfect coordination was repeated in the course of the night, evidence of the creative thinking by the railroad management, which found an additional source of income for its train cars – providing special effects for porn films.”

After years of decline, the Drive-In eventually closed in 2000. It is now the site of the Drive-in Arena, where basketball team Hapoel Tel Aviv plays its home games.

The Drive-In Arena, where Hapoel Tel Aviv plays its home games. The arena was built on the site of the old Drive-In and opened in 2014.
Nir Keidar