Sun-Ray Cinema Announces Permanent Jacksonville Drive-In Theater

Jan 5, 2021

Sun-Ray Cinema, which has hosted pop-up drive-in movies at several locations during the pandemic, has decided the time is right for a permanent Jacksonville drive-in theater.

Owners Tim Massett and Shana David-Massett announced they have entered into a contract with the owners of 859-869 Willow Branch Ave., which straddles the border of Jacksonville’s Murray Hill and Riverside neighborhoods.

They announced a third of the five-parcel property will be converted to an outdoor auditorium that will include a 50-foot screen and concession trailer shortly after the opening. On day one they'll be starting with a 42-foot LED screen.

The theater plans to offer new and classic releases to up to about 65 cars per show.

The first screenings are scheduled for Friday, Jan. 8, and Saturday, Jan. 9. The first movies screened will be Wonder Woman, Goonies and Spirited Away.

As to why drive-ins fell out of favor, David-Massett said it's because they didn't keep up the times. She told WJCT News that won't be the case with Sun-Ray's Drive-In. "We are continuing to rent a video wall and led wall that is just the biggest brightest picture that you could imagine."

An on-site FM transmitter will beam movie soundtracks to car stereos.

David-Massett also stressed her parking attendants will be making sure everyone has a quality experience, to avoid things like accidental brake lights interrupting someone's view or a car stereo being cranked up too loud. David-Massett also make sure the drive-in is a good neighbor to area residents.

She said Sun-Ray's Drive-In is investing $80,000 into the projection equipment with an additional investment going to concessions. 

The area also houses the Metro Entertainment Complex, which is one of Jacksonville’s oldest continuously operating bars to serve the LGBTQA community.

The Massetts have operated their two-screen Sun-Ray Cinema in Five Points for nine years, which remains open, although it is operating at a reduced capacity during the pandemic.

Their expansion will mark the first permanent Jacksonville drive-in since 2008, when the Playtime Drive-In on Blanding Boulevard on the city’s Westside closed. It had been in operation for 60 years, according to WJCT News partner The Florida Times-Union.

In the heyday of in-car movie viewing, The Jacksonville area had about a dozen drive-ins. Here's a photographic look back at Jacksonville's former drive-ins from the Times-Union.

Hear more from Shana David-Massett on Friday's First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.