Jeff Smith 6:35 p.m., June 27
New Drive-In Will Be San Diego's 1st New DI Theater Since 1966
The Full Moon Drive-In has announced their debut weekly screening will take place in a converted space at Pacific Beach Middle School, set up as a kind of third-scale model of the classic drive-in theaters that used to flourish in southern California. It'll be San Diego's first new ozone since 1966, when new (and now long-gone) outdoor theaters were launched in Oceanside (the Valley Drive-In) and San Juan Capistrano (the Mission Drive-in).
The lot at 1500 Felspar Street will lack the traditional graded humps that still prop up the car views at the city's last two remaining drive-ins, the Santee and the South Bay. However, with space for less than two hundred cars, the views of the third-scale DI screen should be unobstructed, provided the taller high-profile vehicles play nice and park near the back.
Cooperation being key, as the Full Moon Drive-In's success or failure will largely hinge on keeping the property owners, the Middle School, and the neighbors happy with the weekly screenings of classic films.
"We are using the location under a special permit, and any behavior problems will force us to leave," say theater operators via email. "The location we are using is trusting that we will respect their facilities."
Full Moon, which launched their first drive-in last year in Mexico, says it has "partnered with the San Diego Unified School District and the Pacific Beach Middle School to bring this great project to life...we know how difficult it is to raise money for education these days and we are looking forward to helping in any way possible."
The exact opening date has yet to be announced, though the debut film will be Cinema Paradiso, likely followed by Back to the Future (an official announcement is forthcoming). A digital projection system still being installed.
"We are working hard to finish some final details," say operators, who indicate the debut will be over the next few weeks. The DI screen is a pre-fab build-up that will be broken down and stored on nights when no movie is screening.
"The drive-in is themed in a '50s ambiance, adding elements such as an old marquee bill, a classic concession stand, vintage advertisements, and live entertainment to name a few. The main objective is to give the viewer an experience that is much larger than what a traditional movie theater has to offer."
A lounge area near the screen will include seating (though patrons must arrive in a car), and sound will be broadcast to cars via FM radio. Locals are encouraged to help choose which movies will be screened via the Full Moon website (http://www.fullmoondrivein.com) or Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/FullMoonDriveIn).
Plans are for the drive-In to screen on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, with the gate open one hour prior to the posted movie time. According to the website, "Handicapped patrons and those arriving in classic cars of the '50s and '60s will always have priority for the first row."
The Full Moon Facebook page indicates that admission prices will run $10 to $30. According to the website, "On our standard movie night, price is $25.00 and it is per CAR, not per PERSON. This means that you can fit as many people as you’d like in the car and the price does not change. We do ask that everybody arrive at the same time inside the car, as we will not allow pedestrians into the property after the car has already been admitted." No motorcycles, pets, or BBQ grilles allowed either, and no outside food or drinks, in order to maximize concession sales.
One unique aspect of the concession stand is a feature not seen in San Diego since the old Cinema Dine Drive-In Theater - in-car food service!
"Just turn on your interior light, and one of our staff members will come to you to take your order and bring you the goodies. Who can enjoy a movie without a bag of fresh popcorn?"
Patrons are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, towels, blankets, pillows, or sleeping bags that can be used in the lounge. "You can also bring a portable FM radio and extra batteries if you would like to hear the soundtrack from outside your car."
Horn honking will be discouraged, nor should patrons arrive more than an hour before showtime. "We are in a residential area and we don’t want to disturb the neighbors."
Though San Diego used to have over a dozen drive-ins in various locales, the only one ever to screen in the PB/MB area was the Pacific Drive-In. Located on Mission Bay Drive, north of Bluffside Avenue and near the foot of Garnet, it shouldn't be confused with San Clemente's drive-in of the same name.
Though the corporation listed as owning this ozone was based in National City, it was actually operated by Pacific Theatres, founded by William Foreman, who got his start in Seattle operating several walk-in theaters before moving to L.A. in 1937 to open California's first drive-in, the Pico (at the time, the fourth drive-in in the nation). Pacific eventually ended up running around a hundred ozones.
In 1973, The Poseidon Adventure played for 21 weeks at the Pacific. In 1976, the Pacific was one of only three local ozones equipped for showing 70mm films (they screened Logan's Run in 70mm beginning June 23, though the print had a mono soundtrack).
In the mid-‘70s, the Pacific's snack bar sold a unique concoction still fondly remembered by locals -- an entire pizza (one dollar) with mozzarella, cheddar cheese, and jalapeño toppings.
"I think we may have tried a flea market on the [Pacific Drive-In] site," says Jay Swerdlow, executive vice president of Pacific Theatres, "but chances are we just got a purchase offer that was too good to resist and we unloaded it. Some properties pay off as land investments ten times more than they could ever pay off as an operating business. At that time, nothing we could have done on that piece of real estate could have equaled the value of selling."
The drive-in was torn down in 1980. In 1985, Jack Guttman and his Guttman Construction Inc. built the $10 million Bella Pacific project on the former ozone lot, featuring 120 “condominium-grade” apartments.
Guttman also built the $8 million Village Grove project on the old Ace Drive-in lot in Lemon Grove, featuring 161 rental apartments, earning him an ominous nickname on several cinema aficionado websites: “The Ozone Killer.”
In 1997, Pacific built a 14-screen multiplex in Claremont (the Town Square 14), and the 15-screen Gaslamp Theaters. The company has also run theaters in La Mesa (Grossmont Center's Stadium 10 and Trolley 8), and elsewhere in San Diego. Pacific today operates about 400 hardtop screens. The company has all but given up on the drive-in business.
The last two new drive-ins to open in the San Diego area were the Valley in Oceanside and the Mission in San Juan Capistrano. The Valley Drive-In at 3480 West Mission Avenue in Oceanside (two miles east of Interstate 5) opened on August 24, 1966. Originally called the Mission Drive-In, the name was changed to the Mission San Luis Rey Drive-In and then the Valley Drive-in, presumably to avoid confusion with the Mission DI in San Juan Capistrano.
In May 1996, the Valley cut back to screening only three nights a week, and then stopped screening movies altogether after the 1999 season. All four screens were left standing for several more years, along with the snack bar, with the original popcorn and ice machines still intact, while an increasingly controversial swap meet was run on the property.
For awhile, owners the Siegel Brothers, were working with a developer to turn the parcel into a $150 million shopping center. However, the project never passed muster at City Hall, mostly because City planners were focused on redeveloping the downtown area.
The Mission Drive-In in San Juan Capistrano was run by the same family behind the Pacific DI near Pacific Beach, the Foremans. Located at 30002 Del Obispo Street, it featured a mural of Mission San Juan Capistrano on the back of its screen, visible from the highway. Operated by Carolyn and Robert Patrick, it opened in November, 1966, with Elvis Presley in Paradise Hawaiian Style and Clint Walker in Night of the Grizzly.
Eventually, Herbert and Hazel Stroschein - the family who owned the 7-acre property - decided to sell. The last screening took place September 8, 1985, with the featured film Return of the Living Dead. "It's going to be sad, but I'm going to help tear it down after Sunday," the Mission's assistant manager, Kim Weaver (24) told the Los Angeles Times.
The lot was later occupied by a Marshalls Department Store and a Wherehouse record store.
"Field Of Screens" -- Cover story 7-6-06: Complete theater-by-theater history of San Diego drive-ins thru the years, including interviews with operators and attendees, dozens of rare and unpublished photos, vintage local theater ads, and more. http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...
"Before It Was The Gaslamp: Balboa’s Last Stand" -- Cover story 6-21-07: In the late 70s/early 80s, I worked at downtown San Diego's grindhouse all-night movie theaters. This detailed feature recalls those dayz, the death of the Balboa Theatre, etc., including interviews with operators, vintage local movie ads, and more. http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...
"Pussycat Theaters: When 'Cathouses Ruled California" -- for the first time, the inside story of the west coast Pussycat Theater chain of adult moviehouses, which peaked in the '70s but later died out. Company head Vince Miranda owned and lived part time at the Hotel San Diego, operating several other local theaters downtown and in Oceanside, Escondido, etc. Told by those who actually ran the theaters, with a complete theater-by-theater encyclopedia covering every Pussycat that ever screened in CA -- http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...
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