Friday, May 22, 2020

Remembering The Drive In

We took Tim to see “Twister” at the Foothill Drive-in Theatre in Azusa, California in 1996. To date, it is the last time...and will probably remain the last time...we ever saw a movie in a drive-in theater.

I mention this because with our current pandemic, drive-ins are suddenly in vogue again. Mainly because it’s a good way to go out and see a movie while still maintaining a social distance. Health authorities have also seen this as a bone they can throw out to the quarantined masses...some entertainment you can leave the house for that is officially sanctioned.

This is not the drive-in experience we had when watching watching Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt battle flying cows, mind you. The snack bar is closed and the playground is off limits. You have to stay in your car, bring your own food, and use a credit card. You still get to use the tinny, window mounted speaker. Or, the flaky radio connection in newer locations.

The kids in the back seat are still gonna complain that they can’t see with the rear view mirror and you’re not going to be able to stick them outside on lawn chairs to make up for it. The teens in the back seat probably aren’t going to mind…

It still reminds me of our heydays of drive-ins growing up.

We had the relatively classy El Monte Drive In, which was featured in the modern remake of “The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman,” with Daryl Hannah, where you had to pay full price for everyone in the car.

It is now a Home Depot.

Edwards Drive-in was located in Arcadia at the corner of Live Oak and Myrtle. It, too, was featured in movies where a complete diner was built out front for the movie “There Goes My Baby” with Dermot Mulrooney and Ricky Schroeder.

It’s now several hundred expensive houses.

Picture courtesey of

The Big Sky in our former home of Duarte, California was knocked down to make a shopping center which is now anchored by a Target. The center still keeps it’s toe in Hollywood...the Sonic Drive In restaurant onsite is the location used for all the chain’s TV commercial filming. More interesting to us is our friend Max’s restaurant...which can be seen in the background of those commercials...where you’ll get some of the best, hand-mixed margaritas around.

The Edgewood in Baldwin Park, just up the street from the very first In ‘n Out burger stand, was our party location. Only charging $2.50 per carload, this was the one where we’d load as many friends as we could coupled with as much beer as we could fit and then not pay any attention to the triple bills they showed.

The Kaiser Permanente hospital where my dad died now occupies the site.

Near where I grew up in South El Monte, California, we had the Starlite Drive In. I remember going to movies there but remember more the swap meet that is still held there. I never enjoyed going to it.

Picture by David Zornig

One thing all of these old drive-ins have in common is that they’re no longer there, with the exception of the Starlite, which operates strictly as a swap meet these days. Another thing they have in common is that they were replaced by things that bring in a heck of a lot more money than ticket and snack bar sales.

And that’s the point...the reason why drive-ins went away and why they won’t really return with a vengeance anytime soon is that they occupied large parcels of land that were way too valuable to let sit empty except for a few hours in the evening. Developers and cities hungry for property tax dollars spelled the end for these outdoor movie palaces.

Oh, and that drive-in in Azusa where we saw "Twister?" it became part of the campus of Azusa Pacific University althought they still saved the classic marquee (picture at top).

While it might be fun to dream about the return of a treasured childhood memory, I just don’t think it’s going to happen.

Darryl Musick
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