Families return to Inland drive-in movie theaters
05:17 PM PDT on Thursday, July 12, 2007
By MARK MUCKENFUSS
The Press-Enterprise Slideshow: See people enjoy a night at the drive in Video: Experience the magic of drive-in theaters
Riverside had the Magnolia, San Bernardino the Mount Vernon. Banning sported the Cherry Pass, while Rialto and Fontana had the Foothill and Bel-Air, respectively. Even Big Bear Lake, like most Inland Empire communities, had its own drive-in theater. But it and the others are now gone.
If you had asked just about anyone 10 years ago, they would have told you the drive-in was history.
But like a Monty Python character, local drive-in theaters seem to be crying out "I'm not dead yet!"
In fact, in the past few years drive-in owners say they have seen a resurgence in business.
Although it usually takes opening multiple screens and daytime swap meets, theater owners say drive-ins have returned to profitability. Recently, the Orange County Fairgrounds began hosting the Star-Vu Drive-in, which uses an enormous inflatable screen.
"Maybe even 10 years ago, it started to pick up," says Fred Williams, who has managed the Van Buren Drive-in in Riverside for 38 years. "The last four years, things have been going like crazy." Story continues below Photos By Stan Lim / The Press-Enterprise Skyline Drive-in 31175 Highway 58, Barstow; 760- 256-3333;
Screens: Two; Capacity: 600; Opened: 1966;
Admission: $6, $2 kids 2-11
Jeremy Gross, 15, and his sister Krista Kolonis, 6, both of Victorville,
sit on top of their van as their movie begins at Skyline Drive-In Theatre
Williams and others say the resurgence is due to a number of factors. Most important is the fact that drive-ins are now offering first-run films instead of having to wait weeks for them. Better technology also has enhanced the quality of the picture and sound.
Paul Geissinger, 54, is president of the United Drive-in Theaters Association and owns Shankweiler's Drive-in in Orefield, Pa., the oldest operating drive-in theater in the country. It opened in 1934. Geissinger says drive-ins throughout the country are enjoying an upswing in business.
"I think it's widespread," Geissinger says. "People are interested in the nostalgia of the drive-in theater. And it's reasonably priced family entertainment."
Geissinger says there are 408 drive-ins left in the country. Of the 10 remaining drive-in theaters in Southern California -- not counting the Star-Vu -- five are in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. As land values in Southern California escalated, it became more profitable to sell drive-ins in more metropolitan areas. But some rural drive-ins held on.
Frank Huttinger is vice president of marketing for De Anza Land and Leisure Corp., a family-owned business that operates the Mission Tiki, Van Buren and Rubidoux drive-ins, along with several others.
At a time when many drive-ins were being torn down, Huttinger says, "the family members looked at it and said, 'There's potential for growth there. It's time to put the drive-ins back on the map.' Let's say it's met and exceeded our expectations." Story continues below Smith's Ranch Drive-in 4584 Adobe Road, Twentynine Palms;
760-367-7713; Screens: One; Capacity: 330; Opened: 1954;
Admission: $5, 3 and younger free
Clara Bills, 11, and her brother Ethan, 8, of Twentynine Palms, wait for
the movie to start.
Teri Oldknow is senior vice president for De Anza. She knows some don't understand the effort.
"There are a lot of people who will never get it," she says. "They can't understand why people would want to be outdoors."
But for those that do, she's pleased to see new life in the business in which she grew up. She says she has enjoyed seeing a return to the family atmosphere she knew as a kid.
"Being involved in (the) comeback," she says, "I feel like I have a guaranteed place in heaven." Reach Mark Muckenfuss at 951-368-9595 or [email protected]
_________________________________________________ Drive-in Food Drive-in food means different things for different people. For some, the distinction doesn't really exist. But for others, there are certain foods they only purchase or make when they go to the show.
"We always get Foster Freeze, and that's the only time we get it," says Amanda McDaniel, 21, of Twentynine Palms. She and her husband pick up the fast food before heading to Smith's Ranch Drive-in. "The old-fashioned (burger), waffle fries and Dr Pepper -- it's drive-in food."
Here are some other examples:
"We go to Walgreen's or Wal-Mart and get the Raisinettes or Gobstoppers. We don't buy the candy any other time." - Neil Brown, 35, Joshua Tree.
"Sunflower seeds." -- Chris Durant, 29, Upland
"Peanut M&M's, we only buy them for the drive-in." - Larry Morris, 32, Victorville
"Popcorn. The real butter is a selling point." - Al Andrade, 49, Ontario
"We always get a bucket of Red Vines." -- James Alefaio, 34, Twentynine Palms