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.

Video: Ceres CA Reopens

Here’s some good news, sort of. The Ceres (CA) Drive-In, which had closed in 2008, will reopen soon thanks to the drive-in demand surge from the pandemic.

The Modesto Bee reported that Ripon resident Mark Stotzer has leased the old Ceres site, which still has one of its two old screens standing. “I had been looking at alternate sites to put something together,” the promoter told the Bee, “and then remembered there used to be a drive-in in Ceres.”

The old drive-in site has a lot of advantages over most of the pop-ups that have sprouted this year. It still has ramps, probably there when it opened in 1948. Its 100-foot screen in 40 feet off the ground, allowing more cars to see it clearly. And then there’s the name, which still resonates with some of the locals.

Although this is good news, I still feel awkward talking about it. Will this reborn Ceres remain in operation in a post-Covid world? (Will there be a post-Covid world?) For now, I’ll hold off on adding it to the Carload active drive-in list, but I always appreciate the opportunity to share a bit of video and hope with you. Enjoy!

Carload in the News

Bombay Beach "Drive-In," an art installation of junk cars facing a white tractor-trailer "screen"
Here’s another example of a non-drive-in. In Bombay Beach CA, there’s a clever life-size piece of art of junk cars facing a white tractor-trailer as a screen, with a Bombay Beach Drive-In sign. But even if they showed movies on that screen while patrons sat in the junk cars, it wouldn’t be a drive-in, because nobody drives in. Photo by DesignClass on Unsplash

This is getting meta. A short time after I wrote a post about not writing posts, Carload showed up in an article about drive-ins. That article mentioned the post about not writing posts, and now I’m adding a post about the article.

Anyway, this was a very nice article about the present and future of drive-ins, written by Joseph Williams for S&P Global Market Intelligence. That’s one of those outlets that informs investors and business folks about trends and shifting winds and those next big opportunities. I suspect that the article’s first paragraphs, mostly about me doing things like spiking a speaker to the gravel in reaction to The Gong Show Movie, were pop-culture sweetening to lure readers into the back-loaded nutritious market discussion.

Williams also touched on the question of how many active drive-ins there are in the US today, really. Do flat parking lots with pop-up screens count? John Vincent Jr., president of the United Drive-In Theatre Owners’ Association, probably doesn’t think so. “Nothing beats a movie at a real drive-in that has proper ramps and has the huge screen,” he told WIlliams.

I addressed this a long time ago. If the screen stays in one place, it doesn’t matter how puffy it is. If people in cars can drive up, park, and watch a movie, ramps aren’t important. That’s the way I see it, though I can understand Vincent thinking that all drive-ins should look like his dues-paying members’ drive-ins.

Anyway, since this post is supposed to be about Carload in the news, here’s one more article to read. In late June, while I was busy not writing posts, Smithsonian magazine ran an article about the 2020 summer of drive-ins, and Carload showed up again in the second paragraph. I wish they’d have told me that they were going to profile the Kanopolis; they could have used my photo.