Mission Tiki finally closes

2010 photo by Earl Leatherberry, from the Carload Flickr pool

Terrible news this week from California. The Mission Tiki Drive-In in Montclair finally succumbed to rising property values; it showed its final movies on Sunday, Jan. 22. The story came from David Allen, columnist at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, who offered an affectionate look at the drive-in’s final days.

In October 2019, the drive-in’s owner sold its land to a property developer. The 27 acres turned out to be worth $34.4 million. At the time, the owner announced that the Mission Tiki would stay open for most of the 2020 season until the buyer could get started building the industrial park he had his heart set on. Then the Covid pandemic changed timetables everywhere. After a short shutdown, the drive-in became a great source of socially distanced entertainment. Meanwhile, the buyer’s efforts to get started were slowed in regards to permitting and scheduling supplies and builders.

That all came to an end this month. Concerned about patron reaction, the Mission Tiki didn’t want to admit that it was closing soon, but the signs were there. One screen after another went dark, and the snack bar started running out of things. Alert customers noticed that the drive-in’s web site wasn’t listing movies after Sunday, and whispers went out about what would be its final night. A “a modest number of people” braved 40-degree temperatures to witness the end.

The Mission Tiki opened as the single-screen Mission Drive-In on May 29, 1956, back when the city was known as Monte Vista. They replaced the original screen with four new ones in 1975. The name changed to the Mission Tiki in 2006 during major refurbishing, including FM radio sound and Technalight projection system. The parking lot was repaved, the ticket booths were remodeled to look like tiki huts, a Maui statue garden was added, and the concession stand was remodeled to match the tiki theme. In 2013, all four screens were updated to digital projection.

I’m happy that patrons had an extended window to return to the Mission Tiki. Some developers in the same situation tear down everything immediately and let the land sit idle until they’re ready. It’s a darned shame to lose a profitable drive-in to just another industrial park, but at least this time we had an extra opportunity to make some memories first.