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.”

Video: How The 66 Looks At Night

Since I posted a video of a dead drive-in a few days ago, you deserve to see a gorgeous living drive-in video. This one was posted by KSNF (Joplin MO’s News Leader) on YouTube earlier this year when Avengers: Endgame sold out the 66 Drive-In Theatre in Carthage earlier in the evening.

The 66 is a beautiful drive-in by day, with manicured grass in its front yard framing its retro sign along old Route 66. It was the perfect choice for the cover photo of my new book, Drive-Ins of Route 66. I’m sad to say that when I took that picture, my schedule didn’t permit me to stay for the show that night, and this video gives me a glimpse of what I missed. The glowing sign was not a surprise, but I hadn’t noticed the clever Sold Out sign, and that ticket booth looks amazing.

Another regret is how little room I gave it in my book; I expect to expand its entry in my next edition. As I wrote, the 66 opened on the west side of Carthage on Sept. 22, 1949, about a month after the Sunset opened on the east side of town. The Sunset closed in the early 1970s, but the 66 persists despite a 12-year hiccup. As I wrote:

“Here is your icon of drive-in theaters, Route 66, and more. William Bradfield opened the 66 and ran it for over a decade before selling to the Dickinson chain, which closed it in 1985. Mark and Dixie Goodman bought the place and turned it into an auto parts junkyard. In 1997, they added projection equipment and reopened the drive-in. Twenty years later, the Goodmans sold the 66 to its former security guard Nathan McDonald and his family. Today the drive-in’s grounds and buildings look as nice as brand new, but with a healthy retro flavor.”

Despite a fair amount of digging and some help from Carthage historians, I still haven’t found any real photos of the Sunset. That’s not a problem for the 66. Every picture from this year looks as good as all of its many past photos, and now I know that some of its videos are better yet.

Video: What’s Left Of Springfield’s Holiday

If you’ve been waiting for more drive-in videos taken by drone, here you go. Unlike most of those that I’ve posted on Carload, this one, posted to YouTube last year, is of a dead drive-in, the Holiday of Springfield MO. (And don’t adjust your speakers, this video is silent.)

As I wrote in my new book Drive-Ins of Route 66, the Holiday opened late, on August 13, 1970. Commonwealth Theatres planned for the Holiday to have two screens, one for 490 cars and the second for 509. That didn’t happen, possibly for reasons related to construction delays. The Holiday closed in 1981, then was revived briefly by another operator during 1994-96.

Now over 20 years later, you can see that the sign and fields are still pretty well preserved. That section closest to the road is just begging to be converted to a second viewing field, and the original ramps are still visible in the grass. Since the decades have suggested that there’s no better, more urgent use for the site, wouldn’t it be nice if someone used it to bring drive-in entertainment back to the good people of Springfield?