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People Still Driving In to Cascade

Movie lovers might think drive-in theaters are a thing of the past, but the Cascade Drive-In, which is on Chicago’s West Side, is still drawing crowds. 

The Cascade Drive-in, the largest drive-in theater in Illinois, opened in 1961. 

Jeff Kohlberg and his family took over the business in 1989 from the previous owner who retired. Kohlberg has been working at the theater since he was a child when his father was running it.Snapchat-5946246542736714355

“This is all I’ve ever done. I’ve never done anything else,” Kohlberg said. 

Kohlberg went to college and received a degree in Business and Accounting, which he said he uses to run his theater. His sister works the box office and his daughter worked the outside snack bar during warmer months.

Cascade, which features two movies per night, can park up to 1,200 cars in its grassy lot. Families are the most frequent customers, Kohlberg said.

In July, Hagerty Classic Car Magazine rented the theater for the night and gave free admission to classic cars. It was the first time the theater had ever been rented. About 500 car owners came to the event.

The drive-in opens every year during the first week of April and continues to show films through November. During the spring and fall it’s open only on the weekends, but during the summer it’s open all week. One year when the weather was warmer than usual, the theater operated into December.

“The weather has been crazy lately,” Kohlberg said. “We don’t have our seasons anymore, but when the weather’s nice there’s lots of people in here.”

Cascade has heated patios with speakers that surround every car space for anyone who wants to sit outside their car. There’s also a radio station for people who want to listen to the movie in their car.

Many older Americans remember seeing movies at the local drive-in theater during the 1950s and 60s. Families with younger children could take them to a movie, and children dressed in their pajamas could fall asleep while their parents enjoyed the show. Teenagers with access to cars found drive-ins ideal for dates. 

“It’s a pretty decent first job,” said Melanie Lents, who has worked at the drive-in for three years.

The last manager worked at Cascade for eight years, Lents said, and the security officer, who is soon retiring, has worked there since 1990.

Lents said the job is very relaxed but gets very busy. She works in the snack bar right behind the heated patios and usually there’s a continuous line of customers. Some nights there have been lines throughout the  two movies. 

“We definitely get a cardio workout,” Lents said.

During the summer there’s up to nine people working the snack bar, but once they reach the colder seasons there are only two.

Cascade allows outside food and pets but does not allow food from Scooby’s Hot Dogs next door because of the lights from Scooby’s parking lot that shine into the theater parking lot and interrupt some people’s views of the movie.

“He’s very uncooperative,” Kohlberg said. 

The drive-in also offers BBQ grills near the picnic area so customers can prepare their own meals.

Lents said Kohlberg treats his employees to an end-of-year party to thank them for their work. 

“The laid-back atmosphere is throughout the whole place,” Lents said.       

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