If you find yourself traveling the back roads of Indiana looking for a bit of nostalgia, take State Road 13 through the charming city of Wabash and you won’t be disappointed. Wabash may be known as the “first electrically lighted city in the world,” but the 13-24 Drive In Theater has illuminated countless nights with movie lights for 64 years running. What makes the theater an icon is that it is one of the few thriving drive-in theaters in the United States. It boasts one of the largest outdoor screens in Indiana, and better yet, it is still open seasonally from May to September.
When drive-ins first caught on in 1946, there were only 155 drive-in theaters in the United States. Four years later, that number increased to 820, and in 1958 the number peaked to a whopping 5,000 theaters across the nation. At that time, outdoor theaters had become a popular venue for inexpensive entertainment for the entire family. However, with the passing of time and the increase of multiplex cinemas, the novelty of drive-in theaters wore off and soon many were closing their gates for good.
The inception of the Wabash drive-in was inspired by Hoosier native Truman Rembusch who began construction on the drive in theater in 1949. All materials used in the construction of the theater were purchased locally more than a year prior and were kept in storage until construction began.
Construction began on a plot of ground that covered 17 acres. The original facilities included the drive-through ticket booth, the concession stand and a shed housing the kiddie train. Of these original buildings, the ticket booth and concession stand are still being used today.
The theater could accommodate up to 750 cars with the newest state of the art speakers for quality sound and elevated parking for the best possible angle to see the movie out of your windshield. The original screen was one of the largest in its day at 58’ x 44’ and had a projection throw of 397 feet which was the longest in the state at that time.
Interestingly, prior to the drive-in’s opening, a contest was held to see who could come up with a name for the newly established drive-in. Judges announced that the name “13-24 Drive In” had been chosen for the new theater on State Road 13 a short distance north of the intersection with Federal Road 24. The winning Wabash contestant, Mrs. Don Alger was chosen from 235 entries for naming the theater. The newly selected name “13-24 Drive In” would incorporate the outline of the 13 and 24 road signs along the two highways to be used in ads for the movies – and still are today.
Opening day for the 13-24 Drive In finally arrived on August 23, 1951. Admission was .50 for adults and free for kids 12 and under. Local businesses showed their support of the new drive-in with ads in the Wabash Plain Dealer including the Baer Lumber Company, Sears Robuck and Co., Yarnelle Lumber Co., and Wabash Co. Farm Bureau Coop Assn., Inc. The first movie shown at the drive-in was “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” in Technicolor. Today, the local business INGUARD continues local support of the drive-in by reinstating kids 12 and under free admission.
The 13-24 Drive In has been a part of Wabash’s social fabric for 64 years. In 2011, the Drive In was purchased by two families who have been longtime supporters of the The Honeywell Foundation. Michael and Angie Beauchamp and Parker and Katie Beauchamp purchased the property with the intent of The Honeywell Foundation operating the facility and receiving all proceeds.