The Old Drive-In Theatre

Our office is currently located on Glen Park Place, just north of Glen Avenue. When giving directions to visitors, I often hear them say, “Ohhh… where the old drive-in theater was.” Built in 1945, the Peoria Drive-In Theatre was the first drive-in theater in central Illinois, and it remains a fond reference point for many Peorians.

Touring the new Methodist College site last month, I wondered how long some people will refer to it as the “old American TV site”… just as its current location at St. Mark Court was once called the “old Ramada Inn.”

As the present becomes past, history accumulates—some of it remembered, much of it forgotten. To preserve our history requires a conscious effort; it’s work. As a business owner, I’ve seen how institutional knowledge can be lost as employees come and go… if it’s not documented. Having served on various community boards and committees, I sometimes have to remind new members that “that idea was tried before.” New blood is essential to any board—and occasionally, the idea that didn’t succeed in the past can be successful under new circumstances—but without knowledge of that history, the likelihood of repeating past mistakes also grows.

Last fall, I attended the live taping of Secretary Ray LaHood’s book unveiling with PBS journalist Judy Woodruff at WTVP. He specifically wanted his grandchildren to be there, front and center, so they could hear why their grandfather made the decisions he did. That’s why he and Frank Mackaman of the Dirksen Center wrote the book: to document and preserve that history.

Consider this era of Instagram and Snapchat, and ask: Will important stories and photographs someday evaporate, never to be seen by the next generation? When our artifacts are virtual, they are hostage to the technologies in which they are stored. Already, many of the files saved to floppy disks in the ‘80s and ‘90s are inaccessible today. What does this portend in the age of the cloud?

We decide what to retain and what to discard; in this sense, we are all caretakers of history. I’m thankful for organizations like the Peoria Historical Society, the Dirksen Congressional Center and public libraries for preserving significant pieces of history, keeping them alive and accessible—but even they struggle to do so in the digital age.

Take a look at collections.carli.illinois.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/bra_peoria/id/84—thanks to the Peoria Historical Society, anyone with an Internet connection can see what the Peoria Drive-In Theatre once looked like. One can even buy a Peoria Drive-In Theatre t-shirt in 2016—just visit bygonebrand.com/peoria or stop by Urban Artifacts at 925 N. Sheridan Road.

So warm up with a cup of coffee on a cold February day, and enjoy this issue! Because everything that’s old is new again…iBi

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