Turning an impressive 70 years old this year, Silver Moon is celebrating this anniversary the best way they know how–with a movie of course! On Friday, April 13th and Saturday, April 14th, Silver Moon will have a showing of Grease, the original movie with sing-a-long words during the music scenes. Can you think of a more fitting film? In the words of Danny Zuko, “Sandy, you just can’t walk out of a drive-in!”
Before the movie showing on Friday and Saturday, the theatre has a performance by local band, 1 Day Weekend, food trucks including smoothies, fresh fruit, donuts, and kettle corn, and drawings for prizes including $70 cash, t-shirts, and other Silver Moon merch. Make it a family day out at their hamburger grill-out with outdoor games for the kids, and a classic car drive-in car show.
The first drive-in to open in Lakeland on April 14th, 1948, Silver Moon was built, owned, and operated by I.Q. Mize and M.G. Waring. At 35 cents per person, the first show was the 1946 film Up Goes Maisie starring Ann Sothern opposite George Murphy.
A tornado on May 23rd, 1950 damaged the screen, causing them to close. The screen was rebuilt and open again on July 1st of the same year. By this time, admission prices had risen to 40 cents a pop.
In 1952, Mize and Waring who had to that point continued to operate the theatre, sold it to one Carl Floyd, owner of a successful chain of Florida drive-in theatres called Floyd Theatres. Floyd made several improvements, most notable of which is their signature flashing neon sign that still attracts people today.
In 1969, the theatre was handed to the family that still owns it today, when Carl Floyd named one of his employees, Harold Spears, president of Silver Moon Drive-In.
Current President of Silver Moon, and grandson of Harold Spears, Chip Sawyer, spoke about how his grandfather got into the drive-in theatre business. “His father was actually in the industry and he was good friends with Carl Floyd who owned a lot of different drive-ins and theaters throughout the state.”
Sawyer continued, “Eventually a company bought most of the drive-ins for the land and that’s when my grandfather had the opportunity to buy several of them in the area and started his own company called Sun South Theatres.”
Sawyer eluded that he had learned an interesting fact about his grandfather’s association with Silver Moon, remarking, “I actually learned quite recently that Carl Floyd let him buy a small portion of the Silver Moon personally in 1952, so he was involved in that theater for a good while.”
Chip began working for his grandfather in true family business fashion around age 15, picking up box office shifts on the weekend. A few years ago, his grandfather began teaching him the operation of the business more in-depth.
Sadly, Harold Spears passed away at age 87 in May of last year. Chip said that his grandfather was still operating the theatre up to the last three months of his life. After his grandfather’s passing, Chip Sawyer took on the full responsibilities as the President of Silver Moon Drive-In. Though his job now entails the day-to-day tasks of a company President from marketing to insurance and overseeing the operation of the theatre, Chip says he still enjoys serving up popcorn to movie-goers.
70 years going strong is quite an accomplishment for any business, let alone in an industry that only has about 350 drive-ins left in the country and only 7 in the state. Sawyer attributes the success of Silver Moon to several things. For one, the nostalgia of the long-time Lakeland theatre is something that continues to draw crowds. “Everyone knows about the Silver Moon,” said Sawyer, “It’s just a place that generations have shared experiences and gone there for entertainment so long.” A large part of the reason it has been a generational phenomenon, according to Sawyer, is the price. Not only of their admission which is only $2 for children ages 4-9 and $5 for ages 10+, but also their reasonably priced full line of concessions.
Their willingness to keep up with modern technology has also been a factor in their longevity. According to the company’s president, less than a decade ago, film companies began limiting their production of the traditional 35mm film. This alone forced many drive-ins to call it quits. Silver Moon, prepared to change with the times, invested in the same digital projection equipment you would find in any indoor theatre.
The last element to their success is the community’s support by simply attending the outdoor theatre, according to Sawyer, appreciatively.
Making use of the space during the day when they can’t show movies, Silver Moon has a Swap Shop every Saturday and Sunday. On the weekend, the theatre grounds are transformed for this purpose and teams with people buying and selling anything you can think of.
Chip Sawyer put into words his feeling on Silver Moon’s 70th, remarking, “I feel lucky every day to continue operating my grandfather’s drive-in theatres. He preached treating customers with the utmost respect. People have a vast array of entertainment choices, especially in today’s world. That’s what makes customer service crucial in our business. We thank everyone in Lakeland and the surrounding communities for the first 70 years, and look forward to the many years to come!”
Silver Moon Drive-In
4100 New Tampa Hwy, Lakeland, FL 33815