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On April 6, the Escondido City Council approved a general plan amendment to change the land-use designation of the Escondido Swap Meet and the Reidy Creek flood-control channel.

According to officials, the purpose of the amendment is to establish a commercial area for future development. Until the project site is redeveloped, the swap meet will continue to operate as it has since 1971, when it was established on the site of the Escondido Drive-In. The drive-in ceased operations in the 1980s. The swap meet supports more than 150 vendors.

At Wednesday’s meeting, most of the councilmembers thought the plan would benefit the city in terms of providing high-paying jobs. Councilmember Olga Diaz, however, opposed the plan: “I’d like to support this change,” she said, “and I’d like to remove the flexibility to cover the creek because I think it doesn’t help the future council at all to create that as an option now; and then whenever there is a project, I can very easily see that it would be just too tempting to cover the creek because it’s cheaper and not everybody cares what the creek looks like.”

Mayor Sam Abed tried to persuade her to support the amendment: “We’re not making a decision now to cover the creek,” he said. “I think when the project comes to us, it could be something very creative to fit the vision we have for the creek.”

Diaz was the only councilmember to vote “no” on the amendment.

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Jay Allen Sanford April 9, 2011 @ 5:49 a.m.

A bit of history behind this contentious bit of land (which was actually the Escondido Drive-In's second locale, having originally opened down the road at 427 Grant -- later 755 West Mission -- in 1950).

The Escondido Drive-In at 755 West Grant (later 635 West Mission Avenue) opened in the 1966 with a single 8,400 square foor screen and room for around 300 cars.

Eventual owner Joe Colin Crowder hung a "Closed for the Winter" sign in 1982, after a screening of Blow Out. When summer 1983 rolled around, the theater did not reopen. "Most drive-ins closed because of home video," says Crowder, "but our problem was getting a good picture. There was a lot of what you'd call 'light pollution' from nearby businesses, and then theater projection technology was basically ignoring [drive-ins] and equipment wasn't being made anymore that allowed for a nice, bright picture on outdoor screens."

The screen stayed up, however, along with around 60 speaker posts, and a successful swap meet was launched on the site. Crowder also ran swap meets at Oceanside’s Valley Drive-in and the Santee Drive-in.

He says the swap-meet business has proved too lucrative for him to give up the property. "They call us Little Tijuana. The old drive-in lot is pretty much the main gathering place for Hispanics on the weekends up here." In 1998, the swap meet went to five days a week and remained open until 11 p.m. on Fridays. A stage was built for live performances, which the City Planning department gave permission to operate until 10 p.m. in the summer and 9:30 the rest of the year.

At that time, non-reserved spots at the swap meet cost sellers $8 to $18, and reserved fees were $10 to $23, ‘pending the day of the week. Vendors could rent small, lockable storage spaces for $160 to $400 – it’s easy to see how the second-hand biz so thoroughly trumped movie exhibition.

Beginning in late 2004, the locale underwent around $10 million worth of improvements, including a large children's playground and picnic areas near the "food court," which consists of around 15 vendors on any given weekend afternoon. The swap meet (incorporated October 1999) has been periodically raided by immigration officials rounding up suspected undocumented workers, but otherwise managed to avoid the kind of civic embattlement that swap meets at the Harbor and Valley drive-ins faced.

Other than from residents of the Village Grove Apartments, across the street from the theater, who filed numerous complaints with the city. “We like where we live” apartment manager Carol Spaziano told the Union-Tribune (7-16-99), “but my tenants don't feel safe because of the people coming out of the swap meet on weekends.”


Jay Allen Sanford April 9, 2011 @ 5:50 a.m.

On April 15, 2009, the Escondido Drive-In screen was torn down by AMG Demolition, after swap meet operators decided it was too expensive to repair and city officials declined to designate it "historic" enough to merit saving. "Fifty years is our rule of thumb on historical significance," the city's planning chief Jon Brindle told the North County Times (4-15-09). "It was also not a particularly unique kind of movie screen."

"It's a neat piece of the town, but it's nothing incredibly special," said Bob McQuead of Escondido's Historic Preservation Commission. "There might be something someday I will fight to preserve, but not this."


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