Bengie's Drive-In Theatre, Baltimore

3.3
#9 of 12 in Fun & Games in Baltimore
History of Bengies:

The Bengies Drive-In Theatre was the result of a collaboration by Jack, Hank, and Paul Vogel. Jack was the sole architect for the project and the Vogel Building Company, with Hank at the helm, did the actual construction. The drive-in opened on June 6, 1956, exactly 23 years after Richard Hollingshead opened the very first drive-in theatre. It was named the Bengies Drive-In Theatre to reflect the name of the surrounding Bengies community, which had been named to honor 23rd US. President Benjamin Harrison (nicknamed Bengie). Hank Vogel personally managed the Bengies from the day it opened until his death in 1978.

Built with streamlined efficiency and customer service in mind, the brand new Bengies not only sported the perfect and largest CinemaScope screen tower, but also featured a large, well designed snack bar with two serving lanes. Twin auditoriums flanked each side of the concession stand to accommodate walk-in patrons. Each auditorium seated 60. The restroom facilities were unusually large for a drive-in of its era. The layout of the car ramps was unusual also. Most drive-ins are designed with a roadway between each ramp, whereas the Bengies features double ramps to allow maximum capacity in a limited space. At the time it was built, the drive-in had a capacity of 1000 cars.

Through the years the appearance of Bengies has changed a little. The original marquee was changed to the present marquee in 1973. The space that was once auditorium seating is now utilized for storage and offices. AM sound was added in 1984. FM radio sound was added in 1991. Digital Projection was added in 2013. Although some of the exterior features have changed through the years, the essence of Bengies has remained the same, making it (as its telephone recording states) a "real-live, honest-to-God, all-American, drive-in movie theatre." It even says "All American Drive-In" on the marquee. Bengies starts each evening with the playing of the National Anthem. It is a long-time Vogel tradition started by Paul Vogel, and is taken very seriously by staff and patrons alike. Young and old face the screen to pay tribute to our flag. Some even sing along.

Cement, steel, glass, and film do not by themselves make a theatre. Ask any drive-in aficionado and they will tell you that it is Showmanship that makes going to a drive-in (or any motion picture theatre) a real treat. Showmanship is a lost art among the many theatres today that rely on the reputations of particular films or actors to draw crowds. The drive-ins and indoor movie palaces of yesteryear knew how to draw crowds and knew how to keep them entertained. They knew how to make the theatre itself as much fun as the movies it played. While many modern indoor theatres have long since stopped making an effort to dazzle patrons, this is certainly not the case with the Bengies Drive-In.

Many little extras give Bengies "personality." An evening at the Bengies includes at least two features (usually three on Friday and Saturday), and those wonderful animated vintage intermission trailers that lure patrons to the concession stand and bring about a sense of nostalgia for drive-in nights past. The snack bar offers many “taste-tempting treats" as well as a wide variety of Bengies memorabilia that patrons can purchase as souvenirs. There is also audience participation via flashing your headlights. While most other drive-ins now operate during summer months only, Bengies remains open into the colder weather months. In-car heaters keep patrons warm during those chilly nights. Additionally, there are giveaways, and on some nights, Dusk-to-Dawn shows. All this for the price of one film at other theatres. Some other drive-ins only show one feature, or show nothing during intermission. The Bengies truly is Special.

There are a lot of people who make the drive-in special. An army of staff members efficiently and cheerfully greet patrons at the box office, escort them into the lot, clean the facilities, cook and serve the refreshments, assist patrons with souvenir purchases, maintain the equipment, and man the projection booth. Overseeing all of those wonderful people is D. Vogel, the owner and vivacious personality of Bengies.

Like all of the Vogel children, D. started helping out at the family's theatres at an early age. His greatest fascination was with the projection booth. It's still his favorite place. Later, he worked in theatres while in college at the University of Cincinnati and Duquesne University. By age 19 he was living in Baltimore and running the Bengies, as well as two indoor Vogel theatres, after his uncle Hank died. He operated the circuit for three years. Brother Freddie took over the circuit from 1980-1983 while D. completed his degree in experimental psychology. After college, he worked as a manager with JF Theatres. Later, he tried his hand as a car salesman to have more normal work hours. Meanwhile, the Bengies had been leased to a theatre chain from 1984-1988. With the movie theatre business in his blood, D. found himself drawn back to the Bengies in 1988 when he saw the condition the property had deteriorated to under the theatre chain's management. He approached his father, who owned the property, with an offer and has been operating the drive-in since April 1988. Under D.’s management, the Bengies Drive-In continues not only as a tribute to the golden age of the drive-in theatre, but also to three generations of the Vogel family who know what quality and Showmanship are all about.

History of Vogel Family:

The Bengies Drive-In Theatre has its origins with the Vogel family, a family that has been in the motion picture theatre business for three generations. The first Vogel to be involved in the movie theatre business was the family patriarch, C. J. Vogel. An architect specializing in designing theatres, he also owned a construction company that built them. Additionally, he owned and operated the Liberty Theatre, an indoor theatre he built in Wellsville, Ohio in 1923.



C. J. Vogel had three sons who followed in his footsteps in one way or another. One son, Jack K. Vogel, studied architecture and engineering at Ohio University. A registered architectural engineer, he also studied at the Beaux Arts in Paris. Having grown up in his family's theatre and construction businesses, he was able to draw upon both his design skills and first-hand knowledge of the theatre industry to make movie theatre design his forte. After World War II ended, the Nation experienced a drive-in theatre building boom to which Jack contributed greatly. By the early 1950's he had designed over 250 drive-in theatres, including South America's first, located in Lima, Peru. Jack Vogel not only designed drive-in theatres, but also frequently helped with their construction. It was not uncommon to see him laboring alongside workers in a vacant field as a new drive-in theatre sprang to life. His design skills were (and still are) world renowned. Knowledgeable of every aspect of the theatre business, he built his theatres to make them most efficient. An example of this is the fact that the Bengies’ screen tower is calculated to offer a perfect CinemaScope picture, which means that the picture is not distorted and that a custom-made CinemaScope lens is not needed in the projector to compensate for the size of the screen or the distance from the projector to the screen. In addition to building drive-in theatres, Jack also built indoor theatres and redesigned older theatres.

Another Vogel son, Theodore "Hank" Vogel, handled much of the day to day operation of the Vogel Building Company, the construction firm founded by his father. The company built many drive-in theatres, including a number designed by Jack.

The third son was Paul Wesley Vogel, a West Point graduate and career US. Army officer. In addition to his military career, he oversaw the business operations of movie theatres managed by the Vogel family.

The third generation of the Vogel family to follow into the motion picture exhibition business were children of Jack Vogel. Since both Jack and their mother, Aileen, (as well as their uncles) managed drive-in theatres, entering the motion picture exhibition field was a logical step. The six Vogel children (Susan, Cindy, Carol, Kim, A. Fred and D. Edward) all cashiers, tended to the concession counter, and acted as "carhops," among other duties. A. Fred Vogel, Jack's oldest son, managed the Bengies from 1980-1983. But it is son D. Edward Vogel who is the personality behind Bengies today. D., whose first name is actually an initial, has owned the Bengies since 1988.
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Bengie's Drive-In Theatre Reviews
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TripAdvisor Traveler Rating
TripAdvisor Traveler Rating 4.0
51 reviews
Google
4.4
TripAdvisor
  • Is there a better place than a drive in on a summer night? Some nights you can see 3 movies. Bring a group and share the fun.  more »
  • If you're looking for a fun and unique way to have a movie night, then Bengie's is definitely worth checking out! Said to have the largest movie screen in the U.S., every seat in the house offers a gr...  more »
Google
  • I love Bengies! It's such an awesome experience. We went to see It chapter 2 and we all loved it. We went again because this time my cousin had never been so we had to take her and she loved it. There are a lot of rules but they are for a reason...for everyone's safety and comfort. But i definitely love going to Bengies over the movie theater any day. Seeing the stars beside the movie screen and feeling the soft breeze while enjoying a movie is just an amazing feeling. 😊 Everyone that works there is so friendly and helpful as well. Thanks Bengies for a job well done.
  • Wonderful environment, family oriented, great concessions, biggest drive-in screen I’ve been to, good location!! I have been to a few drive-in movie establishments and this place is by far the greatest! I don’t understand the negative ratings on the rules. If you follow the simple rules (posted/announced) everyone is safe and happy. I’m pregnant and love that kids are not allowed to run around barefoot. There could be anything on the ground and they’re safer that way!! I posted a picture of the rules and concessions and the amazing screen!! Literally the only suggestion I would say is making the first and second row non-smoking for children around and non-smoking adults. Amazing establishment! Thank you for an anniversary to remember!

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