Santee Drive-In reportedly sold to developers

Santee Drive-In sign
Photo by “Chris1982” via CinemaTreasures.

Which is better? To have a drive-in suddenly close, as Mitchell SD’s Starlite did this week? Or to know that a local drive-in is on borrowed time, giving patrons an opportunity to pay their respects? Given that unhappy choice, I’d pick the latter, so that’s a small bit of comfort that comes with today’s news that the Santee Drive-In Theatre is in escrow to a company that erects large industrial buildings.

The East County Magazine reported today that the Santee is in escrow to North Palisades Partners from Los Angeles. A city official said that North Palisades has filed for approval to build a 291,000-square foot edifice on the site, and that the approval process would take “at least six months.”

What of the Santee’s current, or is that previous owners? On its web site and Facebook page, the drive-in is still promoting movies, selling merchandise, and hosting a popular swap meet, all with no mention that 2023 might be its final season. The magazine article said that requests for comment went unanswered, and the city official said that the owners “don’t want to answer questions about the closing.”

So there you have it. If you live anywhere near the Santee, this might be your chance for one last visit. It’s sad to see venerable drive-ins close just for redevelopment, but it least we got a bit of warning this time.

Update: Somebody, maybe the owners, has been adamant in stressing that the Santee hasn’t been actually sold yet; it’s still in escrow. Which is a necessary step that one normally undertakes only with the goal of selling, but yeah, that’s true.

My secret: The Internet Archive

Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle showing off one of beloved 78 rpm records on a century-old Victor Talking Machine.

After I put Drive-Ins of New Mexico to bed (mostly) last week, I had the rare opportunity to visit one of the best sources for my research. The Internet Archive is accessible through the internet from anywhere, but to tour the physical plant, you need to be in the right place on a Friday afternoon.

The Archive, perhaps best known for the Wayback Machine of preserved web pages, also hosts the Media History Digital Library for the Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research. That’s a huge resource for drive-in theater history, especially up to 1955 or so.

And that’s not all. Browsing around a couple of years ago, I found a collection of Motion Picture Heralds from 1950 to 1954. Another section includes bound copies of California Highways and Public Works, another 1950s publication full of aerial photos in the public domain. There are probably more research resources that I haven’t discovered yet.

Then there’s the content. There’s a section of Drive-In Movie Ads to use for your own intermission trailers. There are thousands of Feature Films to put together your own double features around the intemissions. Or if you want someone else to do all that for you, there’s a series of prepackaged Shocker Internet Drive-Ins.

If you want something that’s not drive-in related, the Archive has over two million books available. For music, you can choose from over 100,000 LPs. And then there’s the collection that I think is founder Brewster Kahle’s favorite: over 400,000 78 rpm and cylinder records.

Really, I’ve just scratched the surface in this post. Go wander around the Archive the way you would any other extensive library. I’m sure that you’ll find something you didn’t expect, and something that you’ll love.

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.