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.

Another CA Drive-In Up For Sale

Hi-Way Drive-In marquee at night
Photo from the Hi-Way Drive-In Facebook page

Now this is a worrying trend. Less than a week after Montclair CA’s Mission Tiki Drive-in Theatre announced it had been sold and would soon close, the Hi-Way Drive-In of Santa Maria is listed for sale at a commercial real estate web site.

As reported by KEYT (Santa Barbara’s News Leader), KSBY (San Luis Obispo’s News Leader), and the Tribune of San Luis Obispo, Lee & Associates is listing 8.89 acres of land that happens to have a drive-in on top of it. The price is a bit odd: $3.33 million. The web site says it’s already zoned for senior housing, medical, or office space, and “The City of Santa Maria is also encouraging a potential shift to residential development”.

As I wrote a couple of years ago during my virtual visit there, the Hi-Way opened in 1959. Twenty years later, Bob Gran, who already owned Santa Maria’s older Park Aire Drive-In, bought the Hi-Way.

All three news sources report that they have reached out to the Hi-Way’s owners for more information. Let’s hope that there’s a way to keep this local institution operating as a drive-in for years to come.

Mission Tiki To Close In … 2020

UPDATE: Last week, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin columnist David Allen got a call from the Mission Tiki’s owner. Frank Huttinger, vice president of De Anza Land and Leisure, said the site’s buyer told him, “They’re not going to want to come in here until the third quarter of 2020. So we’re going to continue operating the drive-in and swap meet past the summer of 2020.” So the end is still near, but now patrons will have some warm-weather months to have a last look at this 63-year-old institution.

Well this stinks. The folks who own the popular Mission Tiki Drive-in Theatre of Montclair CA were offered too much money to turn down, so they’ve sold the place. To their credit, they’re keeping the Mission Tiki open through the end of the year to give patrons a chance at one last look at this 63-year-old institution.

As I wrote during my virtual visit in 2017, the Mission Tiki opened as the single-screen Mission Drive-In in 1956, 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 transmitters 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.

The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin reported the sad news yesterday. The buyer plans a technology-focused business park. City Manager Ed Starr said he was surprised by the sale. “They’ve had lots of interest over the years and they never wanted to sell,” he told the Daily Bulletin.

Now I said it was popular, but Frank Huttinger, vice president of the corporation that owned the Mission Tiki, said that beyond a group of core enthusiasts, attendance was down. “The people who know it really love it,” he said. “We don’t get new customers.”

Huttinger said the last night would be around Christmas, depending on studio-dictated minimum showings. “It’s bittersweet,” he said, “but it was time.”