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.

Mitchell SD’s Starlite won’t reopen

Starlite Drive-In theater sign
Photo by Granola via Cinema Treasures.

Skipping over the many happy, mundane stories about drive-ins reopening for another season leaves me with the unhappy ones. This one from Mitchell’s Daily Republic, via Yahoo News, is quite sad. In 2020, the Starlite Drive-In Theatre there was a great example of a pandemic-based revival when owner Logan Luxury Theatres reopened it. Now the Starlite’s Facebook page tells the story, “It’s been a great run but all good things must come to an end.”

After a year of patronage that “came close to attendance levels in the 1970’s when drive-ins were at their peak,” business had faded for two years. That was the reason Logan gave for its decision not to reopen the Starlite this year. The post invited readers to visit “the Luxury 5 Cinemas downtown.” If I were cynical, I’d guess that once the indoor theaters were allowed to reopen, management saw the drive-in as unwanted competition.

The Starlite had closed in 2013, the year several drive-ins closed because of Hollywood’s change to digital projection. I’m glad that the folks in Mitchell were able to have an encore these past three years. Who knows, maybe enough of them will ask to bring the Starlite back to life one of these days.

The Most Popular* drive-in closes

from the Apache Drive-In Facebook page

Throughout the years, there have been well over a thousand posts here at (Please don’t make me count them.) During that time, one in particular stood out as the most visited, the *Most Popular post that’s ever appeared here. That post was about the Apache Drive-In in Tyler TX.

As you can tell by its sign, the Apache’s selling point wasn’t its snack bar, manicured grounds, or first-run films. It was known for showing “XXX Adult Videos” on the big screen for a small viewing field surrounded by trees.

On March 9, a post on the Apache’s Facebook page said, “Sad to announce the Apache Drive-In Theatre is permanently closed and the property has been sold.” Since that account had previously posted notes about holiday hours and pandemic-era closures, it looks legit, though I haven’t found any other sources to verify the news.

There’s still one adult-film drive-in left in Texas, the Fiesta Drive In Theatre in El Paso. But while the Fiesta always wears its, uh, heart on its sleeve, the Apache had seemed more furtive. The stories I read about the place always involved employees who didn’t want to talk about the owners, and the photos showed a screen with panels coming loose. It didn’t have much on an online presence. From afar, (I’ve never been to Tyler), the Apache sounded like a place where some folks quietly, maybe anonymously went to enjoy the show. Of course this lack of information about the drive-in led to unsatisfied curiosity. That’s the reason why thousands of internet users have clicked on the Apache post over the 9+ years it’s been available.

No matter what it showed, I find it a little sad to have to take another drive-in off the active list.