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!