The Santee Drive-In at 10990 North Woodside Avenue was built in 1958 by James and Patti Henry, along with sometime partner and builder Walter Long. In 1961, the Santee was only charging $1.50 per carload, boosting attendance through 1963. A playground with a merry-go-round, swingsets, and monkey bars used to sit in the grass area beneath the screen, until rising insurance rates forced owners to remove all the equipment. Lawnchairs lined up in front of the screen were also removed, possibly to discourage pedestrian gate crashers, but also eliminating the need to landscape that part of the lot quite so meticulously.
By 1973, fortunes had downturned and the theater was screening X-rated triple features. That year, a second screen was added; for a time, features like Last House on the Left and Ned Kelly would show on one screen, while porn unspooled on the other. For a short time, there was even a drive-in church service on the lot every Sunday, while sex flicks screened at night, making for quite the eye-catching marquee.
A daytime swap meet began running on the lot in July 1982 (at the time, the Henrys formed a separate corporation to run this endeavor, but it was later owned by a separate unconnected party). Joe Crowder (who also owned drive-ins in Escondido and Oceanside that held swap meets) next ran the lot’s resale market. The swap meet's next operators featured monthly shows themed for ham-radio enthusiasts and sports-equipment traders.
With two 1.85:1-ratio screens facing each other and room for 700 cars, it's been many years since they took out the last two rows of speakers on poles and began broadcasting films in FM sound. The orange-painted bathrooms used to be a little dicey, but their snack-bar food is more than edible and very affordable.