Des Plaines Had Hot Days, Arabian Nights at Oasis Drive-In
A summer pastime from the past
From the 1950s to the 1970s, the drive-in movie was a summer ritual. While today only two drive-ins exist in Chicagoland - the Cascade in West Chicago and the McHenry Drive-in Theater - there were once many. Changes in moviegoing habits and real estate pressures led to the disappearance of most drive-ins, but memories endure.
For Des Plaines residents, the local drive-in was the Oasis, named for the nearby Des Plaines Oasis on the tollway. The theater opened in 1961 and held 1,546 cars.
The drive-in took the Oasis concept to the extreme. While most drive-in theaters lacked a theme, the Oasis recalled the showmanship of the exotic fantasy movie palaces of the 1920s, with its middle eastern desert theme carried out wherever possible.
Between the Oasis and the Flying Carpet Motor Inn, a 1960s Des Plaines resident could live like a sultan.
Cars would enter through an elaborate Mosque-styled gateway with arches, minarets and onion domes covering its box office booths. They would proceed down a driveway lined with nine palm trees, sand dune murals painted on the fence and statues of sheiks on camel back. Snacks could be had at the bazaar-style snack bar, with four cafeteria lines and vendors in the corners.
Carhops and attendants were outfitted like legionnaires. If a patron's car was uncomfortable or the weather forbidding, or if dad needed the car for the evening, the Oasis had two climate-controlled indoor seating areas with a total of 140 seats with huge picture windows facing its enormous 52-foot-by-125-foot screen. Perhaps the desert theme helped to convince patrons it was warmer in the cold winter months, if the electric car heaters proved inadequate.
A corner next to the screen held a playground for children uninterested in the movie. In the early days, there was a petting zoo with an ostrich racetrack, llamas, and donkeys, surplus from Disney's Swiss Family Robinson, and on the grand opening weekend, you could ride a camel or elephant for a quarter. After the animals were gone, the area was converted into a mini-golf course.
The theater's construction was delayed due to concerns of the adjacent mobile homes straining the Elk Grove School District 59 with the added population. Nonetheless, the mobile homes were built, wrapping around the theater (residents needed only to sit on their roofs for a free, if silent, show!)
The Oasis would prove short-lived. It closed in 1973, after years of tolerating noise from O'Hare runway 32R. The trailer park soon expanded onto the land, and the only remaining traces of the theater are the marquee sign, now advertising Oasis Mobile Home Park, and a jog in the park's Madison Road where the projection booth/snack bar/indoor theaters once stood.