Beverly Drive-In Theatre, Hattiesburg Mississippi
The Beverly, built in 1948, was the second drive-in to open in Mississippi. The post-war growth of the drive-in was also seen in Mississippi, with the total number of theaters reaching 70 by 1959.
Herby and Sue Hargroder moved to Hattiesburg from New Orleans in 1948 to open the Beverly Drive-in Theater. The theater was named for their daughter. The Hargroder's theater, the largest in Mississippi, opened on May 28, 1948 with an admission of 39 cents, which included popcorn and soft drinks. Opening night attendance reached 1166. The Hargroders operated the theater until 1980, when Mr. Hargroder died. "Miss Sue," as she was widely known in the Hattiesburg community, ran the theater until 1981, when she leased it to other operators for six years. Hargroder terminated the lease in 1987 when the operator began to show "adult films".
With the exception of a few benefits for charity, the Beverly screen remained dark until 2001. At that time, N&S Theaters, a Wisconsin partnership, leased the Beverly and reopened the theater in October 2001. Business remained strong until Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, causing significant damage to a screen, concession booth and ticket office.
As was the case with other drive-in movies, the Beverly offered a complete entertainment package. A concession stand served "movie foods." The Hargroders installed a fenced-in playground near the concession stand. In 1960, they added a miniature golf course. Like other drive-in operators, they sought to maximize their space by adding a second screen in 1979.
The Beverly had features similar to other drive-in movie theaters. The lot was large and paved, with parking for 500 cars. Poles located throughout the lot held speakers. A drive-through ticket booth was at the front of the theater, with the concession stand and projection room in a free-standing building in the lot. The large screen was a common feature in all drive-ins.
However, the Beverly has one feature unique to Mississippi drive-ins, and not common in other states. When the Hargroders built the Beverly in 1948, they incorporated a three-bedroom, two-bathroom family home into the screen tower. The sound-proof home has a sunporch and a two-car garage. "Miss Sue" lived in the house until her death in 1998 and until 2007 it was still occupied by members of the Hargroder family.
The Beverly Drive-in Theatre played an important role in the lives of several generations in Hattiesburg and the vicinity. Many people have fond recollections of evenings spent at the theater. Joann Anderson Williams of Petal, Mississippi, recalled:
Charlene Magnum of Hattiesburg had her own memories of the Beverly:
Hattiesburg author and restaurateur, Robert St. John's, memories were from more recent times. St. John attended Beeson Academy, located near the theater. He recalled:
In the latter days of the Beverly, new management, leasing from the original owners, resorted to cheesy soft-core skin flicks to help generate their dwindling business. This posed quite a quandry under the Friday night lights of the Beeson Academy football field.
Our team, by that time was used to the momentary flashes of flesh. However, it served as a great strategic distraction for the visiting team. Especially when the Beverly was showing such celluloid classics as "Swedish Stewardesses in Love." A 75-foot tall bosom in the distance will thwart any opposing teams play calling.
To this day I think that it was the 7,500 square feet of exposed flesh, rather than the mighty Beeson Trojans' awe-inspiring football prowess, that helped our tiny school win as many football games as we did."