Abandoned Will County drive-in theater gets its close-up

July 20, 2010


(photo by Krista Malanowski)

Earlier this month, we examined the abandoned Hill Top Outdoor Theater, a drive-in near Joliet in unincorporated Will County.

Turns out I wasn't the only one pointing a camera at the old drive-in. Will County photographer Krista Malanowski has made the theater the subject of her recent work. But rather than focusing on the giant screen or the vastness of the lot, Malanowski has instead focused on the theater's details. Light sockets. Fuse boxes. Camera switches. The bits and pieces of old school, hard-wired devices that made the theater go. Their crumbling obsolescence mirrors that of the drive-in itself.‚  We'll talk to Krista as we check out her images:

Q: How does it feel to walk through the space?

A: It felt great to see all the stuff still left behind, especially the two projectors.‚  I was surprised to see how much was still in reasonable standing shape for having been abandoned for so long.‚  As I was walking through the‚  concession stand area I thought of warm, buttery popcorn!‚  Its such as shame to see so many drive-ins gone to the wayside.‚  I think there were plans at some point in time to resurrect Hilltop [ed note: true, according to preservationists in Will County, but those plans are in limbo] that would be great see.


(photo by Krista Malanowski)

Q: As a photographer, what about the theater grabbed your eye?

A: The first thing you can't miss is the‚ huge screen wall with a fading "Hill Top" written across top of the street side.‚  But once you walk around and go through the buildings, as a photographer everything grabbed my eye - I didn't know where to start.‚  In the screen building it may be‚ blue paint and colorful, cut wire.‚  In the projector room - the projectors of course!‚  I ended up doing sets/pairings of picture because I did have so much to choose from.

Q: What camera and lens(es) did you use and why?

A: I used two different cameras.‚  The first one was a Sony Alpha 350 with a 18-70mm and a borrowed Nikon D300 with a 105mm macro lens.‚  I used the Sony equipment because it's just what I use all the time - I didn't want to bring a telephoto lens because it just wouldn't have worked inside the buildings.‚  And the Nikon I borrowed before and it's now become my obsession. I must get one of my own soon, I can't keep borrowing it!


(photo by Krista Malanowski)

Q: What was the toughest part about photographing the building? A: Lighting - but isn't that case anywhere?‚  Also, for safety reasons, you can't move around too much which is why I like detailed pictures for this scene.


(photo by Krista Malanowski)

Q: Any images you wish you could have gotten--but they just weren't there? Besides some of the warm buttery popcorn, I mean.

A:I would have liked one [of an] old [drive in] speaker - but no such luck finding any. I had read online that there once was a whole bunch stacked in a room, but they are long gone now.

(Ed note: Those old speakers are quite cool. I shot one in 2008 while driving through a closed-for-the-season Star drive-in in Monte Vista, CO. Check it out here.)

As for Krista, see more of her work here