Video: El Rancho Keeps Rolling Near Reno

This month, the Reno Gazette Journal ran a nice retrospective of the El Rancho Drive-In in neighboring Sparks NV. It was a clear step above the typical “Hey, did you notice that there’s a drive-in theater in town?” quickie, and it included a nice video to boot.

The El Rancho was founded by Tony Pecetti, “a bigger-than-life accordionist and entertainment entrepreneur in town,” on Aug. 19, 1950. It had a single screen and room for 580 cars. Pecetti would sometimes play his accordion between features. He passed away in 1969, and Syufy Enterprises bought the place in 1973. Syufy added two more screens that year and a fourth in 1974. The Gazette Journal wrote that those four screens have remained intact ever since.

In 1973, a complaint about The Last Tango In Paris led to the El Rancho dropping X-rated movies. In 1993, according to the Gazette Journal, the drive-in “was scheduled to be torn down and turned into a flea market and indoor theater complex.” The article didn’t provide any more details, including how the El Rancho dodged that fate.

The drive-in is currently run by General Manager Diego Maldonado, who lives on-site at with his family. He started 11 years ago working the churro cart as a summer job. “I’d never even seen a drive-in before I walked in here,” he said. “I thought that they were extinct.”

My favorite quote came from one of the patrons: “When I first came here, I thought I was being sneaky staying for the second feature, then I learned that’s part of it!” There’s much more to the article, including some nice photos, so you really should go read it!

Feb. 21: Las Vegas 6 Drive-In, North Las Vegas NV

It’s Day 52 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It started with a two-hour drive across the Mojave Desert, past the world’s tallest thermometer, past what was once the world’s tallest roller coaster, and past most of the crazy hotel-monuments on the west side of the Las Vegas Strip. It was a fun drive! And then I reached the object of my quest, the Las Vegas 6 Drive-In, technically in North Las Vegas NV.

According to Cinema Treasures, the Las Vegas Drive-In opened in 1966 with a single screen, joining three other Vegas-area drive-ins: the Nevada, Skyway, and Stardust. It later expanded to four screens, then to six screens, then lost one due to wind damage, then restored the sixth.

The central concession stand is a fine place to get huge tubs of popcorn and drinks along with the other usual suspects. Always nice to see some arcade games in there too. It’s clearly built to handle much busier crowds than what was there on a Tuesday night, even one with perfect 60-degree weather.

I cheated a little in choosing my “early” movie for the night. John Wick: Chapter 2 played as a second feature, but it started at 8:15, earlier than any first movie in June. I wanted to watch something I hadn’t seen yet, and this movie was worth fudging a little.

Miles Today / Total:  157 / 6422 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: John Wick: Chapter 2 / 37

Nearby Restaurant: Just down the street at Texas Station, one of its many restaurants is Austin’s Steakhouse. There are quite a few of these old-school sort of fine dining steakhouses throughout the area, but not many have prices as reasonable as Austin’s. I splurged on the steak and lobster because I didn’t know the next time I’d get such a great opportunity.

Where I Virtually Stayed: There are so many choices spread out all over the Las Vegas area, and there are a couple of decent ones nearby. The Fiesta Rancho Hotel is literally across the street, but I like the Texas Station a little better, and it’s just another block down Rancho Road. The station buffets are a great value, and the room rate was very reasonable because I gamble just enough to keep a players club card alive.

Only in North Las Vegas: There are any number of amazing things to talk about in Las Vegas, but what about North Las Vegas? Besides the drive-in, maybe its most remarkable feature is the lumberjack statue posing in front of Lumberjacks Restaurant. It’s maybe 12 to 15 feet tall.

Next Stop: Basin Drive In Theatre, Mount Pleasant UT.

Feb. 19: El Rancho Drive-In 4, Sparks NV

It’s Day 50 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey, and it took me almost two and a half hours and a half to drive east from Sacramento to the El Rancho Drive-In 4, Sparks NV.

I was disappointed to find the El Rancho closed for the season. Sure, the temperature never broke 55 all day, but it was an increasingly rare day and night without rain. I just need to remember that the Reno area isn’t warm desert like most of Nevada.

At least I could visit the public market (aka flea market) on the grounds of the El Rancho. They run that every Saturday and Sunday even during the drive-in’s off season. They charge 75 cents to get in Sunday, as opposed to 50 cents on Saturdays. I really wonder why they bother to have different prices on different days.

As documented on Cinema Treasures, the El Rancho opened in August 1950 as a single-screen theater. It added two screens in 1973 and a fourth in 1974.

Miles Today / Total:  142 / 5848 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 36

Nearby Restaurant: The closest restaurant is actually across the border in Reno at a place known as simply The Wok. It’s just a converted Wendy’s in a little shopping center, but the combos are a lot like those at my favorite Chinese restaurant at home – surprisingly complex and flavorful yet not too expensive.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Never mind how close it is (just 10 minutes, actually), if I’m here and the drive-in is closed, I’d like to stay at a place where I can gamble and have a good time. That place was the Atlantis Casino Resort in Reno. Great rooms, a huge buffet for dinner and breakfast, and free drinks while I play. Casinos like this are always fun as long as you don’t lose too much at the slots or the tables.

Only in Sparks: According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, the new permanent (until it changes again) home for a 36-foot-high prospector statue is in front of the Sparks Heritage Museum. “Last Chance Joe” was originally installed in 1958 at what is now The Nugget in downtown Sparks. The casino was sold in 2013, and in late 2014, its remodeling prompted Joe to find a new home. Now that it’s away from the shelter of a casino building, the chicken wire and “paper-maché-type material” statue needs significant restoration, so city leaders started the Last Chance Joe Fund.

Next Stop: Skyline Drive-in Theater, Barstow CA.