Wednesday, April 25, 2012

BTTF#14: Drive-In Theatres of the San Fernando Valley

Image courtesy Here In Van Nuys
Welcome aboard the Delorean! Marty McFly here to take you on a journey to the Canoga Park, Laurel (Pacoima), Pickwick (Burbank), Reseda, Sal Val (Burbank), Sepulveda (Van Nuys), Van Nuys, Victory (North Hollywood), and Winnetka 6 (Chatsworth) Drive-Ins. The Delorean has the required plutonium plus some random garbage in the Mr. Fusion reactor ready for this trip. The time circuits are set to various dates in the 50's and 60's (actual date unknown) and the flux capacitor is......fluxxing. The engine is running (not stalled this time) so we need to hurry. Hang on, as the ride can be a little bumpy as we travel back in time to explore the Drive In Theatres of the San Fernando Valley. 

The Drive-In Theatres were a place of escapement and freedom as one could enjoy the latest movie release within the comfort of one's car free to do whatever they want. These theatre's became highly popular in the 50's, 60's, 70's, and 80's especially in suburbia where the automobile became your means of escape. The SFV was exploding in growth in the post WWII era and the Drive-In theatre was a perfect match with wide open spaces necessary to build such a large setting. And more importantly, there was sufficient vehicle traffic to fill up the slots. 

However, its success was slowly met with failure as 1) theatres were short changed due to people hiding in  backseats and refreshments purchased elsewhere than the snack bar which was usually a 20 minute ordeal, 2) the true movie experience was never fully realized with the horrible speakers and picture quality compared to an indoor experience, 3) films could only be shown at night adding further to the revenue loss although some would host swap meets during the day, and 4) the land became more lucrative than the theatre itself prompting owners to eventually sell to today's mini-malls, industrial parks, schools, parking lots, and even a freeway.

From Kevin Roderick's America's Suburb: San Fernando Valley book (page154):
Under The Stars. At the height of their popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, eight drive-in movie theaters operated in the Valley. Shows began each night "at dusk," the films projected onto giant outdoor screens. Countless Friday night dates were spent in automobiles parked in the back rows of the Pickwick, the Victory, the San Val and the Laurel in the east Valley, and the Reseda and the Canoga in the west. Not a single drive in screen remains.
This Back To The Future (BTTF) post is slighlty different than other posts as we will explore the past and present of the San Fernando Valley Drive-In Theatres starting in alphabetical order. 

Canoga Park Drive-In
Address: Canoga Avenue and Strathern Street, Canoga Park
# of Screens: 1
# of Cars: 1,200
Operated by: Pacific Theatres
Opened: 1960
Closed: (unknown) sometime in the mid-70's
Replaced by: Industrial park near the new Metro Orange Line
Comments: Owned by the Pacific Theatre chain which was sold in 1976 to make way for an industrial park.

Photograph taken on June 3, 1961. Image courtesy LAPL.
Photograph taken on June 3, 1961. Image courtesy LAPL.
Photograph taken on June 3, 1961. Image courtesy LAPL.
Image courtesy LAPL Library: Hollywood Citizen News/Valley Times Collection; "Enjoying gala opening night festivities at the new Canoga Park Drive-In Theater."
Image courtesy Cinematreasures.org comments; Canoga Park Ad in bottom right corner
Image courtesy Cinematreasures.org comments; Canoga Park Ad 
Image courtesy Cinematreasures.org comments; Aerial view of Canoga Park Drive in 1966
Image courtesy Historicaerials.com; The Canoga Park Drive-In Theatre shown in 1977 completely demolished.
Image courtesy Historicaerials.com; The Canoga Park Drive-In Theatre shown in 1978 with industrial park built.
Image courtesy Google Maps; The former Canoga Park Drive-In Theatre shown today
Laurel Drive-In
Address: 10770 Laurel Canyon Blvd, Pacoima
# of Screens: 1
# of Cars: 1700
Operated by: Unknown
Opened:  est. early 1950's
Closed: est. early 1970's
Replaced by: 118 Freeway
Comments: With its location next to the San Fernando High School football field, Friday nights would be difficult to watch and listen to movies as a game was going on nearby. This site was used for an episode of Dragnet Season 4, Disc 1, Episode 2 for about about 5 seconds in the intro of Jack Webb's "This is the City."
Image courtesy San Fernando Valley Relics Facebook Wall Photos
Image courtesy Historicaerials.com; Showing 1952 with no Drive-In
Image courtesy Historicaerials.com; Showing 1969 before it was demolished with SFHS football field in upper left corner
Image courtesy Historicaerials.com; Showing 1972 with 118 Freeway in development
Image courtesy Historicaerials.com; Showing 1977 with 118 Freeway complete
Image courtesy Google Maps; Showing former Laurel Drive-In today
Pickwick Drive-In
Address: 1100 W. Alameda Avenue, Burbank
# of Screens: 1
# of Cars: 781
Operated by: Originally Cal-Pac Drive-In Theatres, Inc, later Pacific Theatres
Opened:  1949
Closed: 1989
Replaced by: Rancho Marketplace Shopping Center
Comments: Best known for the premiere of Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles where guests were led in on horses. Was featured in the following TV shows and films; He's a Cockeyed Wonder with Mickey Rooney (1950), Grease, The Rockford Files - Episode: The No-Cut Contract (1976), Knight Rider - Episode: Sky Knight, Blue Thunder starring Roy Scheider, Christine featuring Keith Gordon, The Outsiders, and, St. Ives (1976) starring Charles Bronson. Also check out the LA Times article, Death of a Drive-In: Pickwick Theater Shuts Down, Ending an Era for Burbank Moviegoers and Film Makers by Carlos Lozano on October 8, 1989. Check out this quote from the article:
"It's a shame," Brogan said. "Who knows, maybe 10 years from now, there won't be any drive-ins."
Burbank resident Rachel Smith, 18, said she will miss the Pickwick.
"They're knocking down a piece of history," Smith said. "I didn't go there very often, but the times I went it was very groovy."
Image courtesy Cinematreasures.org

Image courtesy John Burroughs High School Class of 1967
Image courtesy John Burroughs High School Class of 1967
Image courtesy John Burroughs High School Class of 1967

Image courtesy John Burroughs High School Class of 1967

Image courtesy John Burroughs High School Class of 1967; Image before it just burned down
Image courtesy Historicaerials.com; showing 1954
Image courtesy Historicaerials.com; showing 1980
Image courtesy Google Earth; showing 1989 right before it burned down
Image courtesy Google Maps showing former Pickwick Drive-In today
Reseda Drive-In
Address: Reseda Blvd and Vanowen Street, Reseda
# of Screens: 1
# of Cars: 740
Operated by: Pacific Theatres
Opened:  1949
Closed: unknown (est. late 70's)
Replaced by: Industrial complex
Comments: This theatre was used for the filming location for Peter Bogdanovich's "Target" starring Boris Karloff.
Image courtesy I Love Drive-Ins; From the movie "Targets"
Image courtesy I Love Drive-Ins; From the movie "Targets"
Image courtesy I Love Drive-Ins; From the movie "Targets"
Image courtesy I Love Drive-Ins; From the movie "Targets"
Image courtesy I Love Drive-Ins; From the movie "Targets"
Image courtesy I Love Drive-Ins; From the movie "Targets"
Image courtesy I Love Drive-Ins; From the movie "Targets"
Image courtesy I Love Drive-Ins; From the movie "Targets"
Image courtesy Historicaerials.com; The Reseda Drive-In in 1952
Image courtesy Historicaerials.com; The Reseda Drive-In in 1972
Image courtesy Historicaerials.com; The Reseda Drive-In in 1977 right before its demolition
Image courtesy Historicaerials.com; The Reseda Drive-In in 1980 completely demolished
Image courtesy Google Maps showing former Reseda Drive-In today
Sal Val Drive-In
Address: 2720 Winona Ave, Burbank
# of Screens: 1
# of Cars: 813
Operated by: Pacific Theatres
Opened: 1938
Closed: est. mid 70's
Replaced by: Industrial complex for production and effect houses
Comments: The Sal Val Drive In was immortalized in the 1948 film, White Heat, starring James Cagney who played Crime boss Cody Jarrett and used the Sal Val as his hideout from the cops.

Image courtesy LAPL
Image courtesy LAPL
Image courtesy LAPL
Image courtesy LAPL
Image courtesy LAPL
Image courtesy LAPL
Image courtesy Wesclark.com/burbank
Image courtesy Wesclark.com/burbank
Image courtesy Wesclark.com/burbank
Image courtesy Wesclark.com/burbank
Image courtesy Wesclark.com/burbank
Image courtesy Wesclark.com/burbank
Image courtesy Wesclark.com/burbank
Image courtesy Wesclark.com/burbank
Image courtesy Historicaerials.com; Showing 1954
Image courtesy Historicaerials.com; Showing 1972
Image courtesy Historicaerials.com; Showing 1980
Image courtesy Google Maps showing former San Val Drive-In today
Sepulveda Drive-In
Address: 6127 Sepulveda Blvd Van Nuys
# of Screens: 1
# of Cars: 1500
Operated by: Aladin & Pacific Theatres
Opened: 1955
Closed: 1989
Replaced by: Orange Line Busway Parking
Comments: This site was also used to film a Knight Rider episode titled, Halloween Knight.

Image courtesy Garbell.com
Image courtesy Garbell.com
Image courtesy Historicalaerials.com; In 1952, looks like there was an orange grove.
Image courtesy Historicaerials.com; Single screen Drive-In in 1972
Image courtesy Google Earth; Drive-In from 1989 right before being closed
Image courtesy Google Earth showing former Sepulveda Drive-In today
Van Nuys Drive-In
Address: 15040 Roscoe Blvd Van Nuys
# of Screens: originally 1, later 3 (1983)
# of Cars: 900, later 1400
Operated by: Pacific Theatres
Opened: 1948
Closed: 1996
Replaced by: Vista Middle School
Comments: Second last to be closed after Winnetka 6 Drive-In. Remained untouched for two years until 1998 when it was demolished. I remember seeing an eBay auction with a recording album that had the  mural of the Drive-In on its cover but I cant remember who it was. Does anybody know? Also check out an image of the mural here, here, and a recording of the answering machine. Also check out these two articles from the LA Times; Car Dealership Ok'D for Old Drive-In Site by Michael Baker on May 28, 1998,  District Eyes Former Van Nuys Drive-In for School by Kristina Sauerwein on March 24, 1999 and 

Image courtesy Garbell.com; Grand Opening in 1948

Image courtesy Cinemaretro.com; Jan Shepard posing with her classic 50's car
Image courtesy cinematreasures.org
Image courtesy Garbell.com; Mural from single screen, demolished when switched to triple screen

Image courtesy San Fernando Valley Relics Facebook Wall Photos; Screen with horse and mission mural being demolished to make way for additional screens in 1983.
Image courtesy Garbell.com; Closed for season, meant closed forever
Image courtesy Historicaerials.com; Here is the single screen Drive-In in 1972
Image courtesy Google Earth; Triple screen in 1995
Image courtesy Google Earth; Completely demolished in 2002
Image courtesy Google Maps showing former Van Nuys Drive-In Today
Victory Drive-In 
Address: 13037 Victory Boulevard, North Hollywood
# of Screens: 1
# of Cars: 650
Operated by: Unknown
Opened: 1947
Closed: est mid 1970's
Replaced by: Victory Plaza Shopping Center
Comments: Right next door to the first McDonald's in the San Fernando Valley. This Drive-In can also be seen in the film, Ski Party with Frankie Avalon and Dwayne Hickman go out on dates to the Drive-In. The Victory Drive-In was used for the premiere opening of Devil's Hairpin shown in the second image below.You can also hear their voicemail here.

Image courtesy Hollywood Historic Photos; shown in 1947
Image courtesy Hollywood Historic Photos; shown in 1957
Image courtesy San Fernando Valley Relics Facebook Wall Photos 
Image courtesy San Fernando Valley Relics Facebook Wall Photos 
Image courtesy Historicaerials.com; Shown in 1952
Image courtesy Historicaerials.com; Shown in 1972 with nearby areas becoming more developed
Image courtesy Historicaerials.com; Shown in 1978 completed demolished and replaced with a mini-mall
Image courtesy Google Maps showing former Victory Drive-In today
 Winnetka 6 Drive-In
Address: 20210 Prairie Avenue, Chatsworth
# of Screens: originally 4, later 6
# of Cars: 2,300
Operated by: Pacific Theatres
Opened:  1975
Closed: 1996
Replaced by: Pacific Theatres and various eateries
Comments: The biggest of the Pacific Drive-In theatres. Coincidentally it was the last to open and the last to close in the Valley. Originally built to replace the Canoga Park Drive-In. Also check out the article from the LA Times, Drive-In to Be Torn Down for 26-Screen Complex on May 17, 1996. Check out this quote from the article:
"It's just something else they're taking away," said Dan Darnell, 36, of Granada Hills, who grew up attending movies at the drive-in.
"They're making money, cramming more in less space, more concrete," he said.
Image courtesy Worldwide Drive-In's
Image courtesy Worldwide Drive-In's
Image courtesy Worldwide Drive-In's
Image courtesy Worldwide Drive-In's
Image courtesy Worldwide Drive-In's
Image courtesy Historicaerials.com; The Winnetka Drive-In 1977 with 4 screens originally.
Image courtesy Google Earth; This image from 1995 right before it was demolished shows  6 screens.
Image courtesy Google Maps showing former Winnetka 6 Drive-In today
If you made it this far, you might want to also check out the LA Times article, And Still, as Sun Goes Down, Drive-In Die-Hards Come Out by Christine Ziaya on January 15, 1988, Drive-Ins Roared into L.A. County, But Only One Remains by Steve Harvey on July 10, 2011. 

The only Drive-In that remains today in LA County is the Vineland in City of Industry so you still have an opportunity to enjoy the Drive-In experience although not in the San Fernando Valley but close enough. 

You can check out more Back to the Future series here.

Sources:

Besides whats listed in the post above, these two sites provided a wealth of information and pics, check them out if you can:

Drive-Ins.com 

Cinematreasures.org

3 comments

Valley Guy

What a great collection of photos and information. The images from Historic Aerials is very telling in that they show how much land a drive-in really took up, and why they were doomed when that land became more valuable.

Growing up in the '60s and '70s, the various drive-ins were where we pretty much always saw movies. Since we were in Northridge, our regular stops were the Reseda, the Canoga, the Sepulveda and the Van Nuys.

I also remember that the Sepulveda and the (Laurel?) were visible from the freeways next to them if you were driving at night. If we'd go by them, I'd always try to see a bit of the screen between the rows of eucalyptus trees that were obviously planted to reduce distractions or people on the street taking in free shows (minus sound).

The cool thing about our trips to them was that we'd usually stop at drive-in restaurant for dinner beforehand. (Not a drive-thru, mind you, but where you parked and a waitress came out and hooked a tray on the car door.) If we were going to the Canoga, we'd eat at Bob's Big Boy on Sherman Way. For the Sepulveda, the convenient drive-in was Tiny Naylors at Sepulveda and Victory, and right one the way to the Reseda there was an A&W (which turned into a skateboard park for a time after it closed in the '70s) on Reseda Boulevard near Vanowen.

The evenings ended up being REALLY long, especially in the summer when they obviously couldn't begin the movies until it was dark, around 8:00. Sometimes they'd start the cartoon (almost always a Woody Woodpecker) when it was still kind of light out. There'd then be two feature films, so we wouldn't end up getting home until around midnight, and my brother and I were always dressed in our pajamas so we could sack out early.

One little funny thing about the Winnetka 4 Drive-In. It was built to be "state of the art" when it first opened, and they skipped the big metal speakers that most of them had for a system where you'd clip a wire to your car antenna and get the sound through the radio. If your car didn't have a radio for some reason, you could rent/borrow a portable at the snack bar with some kind of deposit. We saw both "Jaws" and "Star Wars" there when they came out.

I also remember that the Winnetka was so huge, the ushers (they wore long white shop coats with PACIFIC THEATRES in red letters on the back) rode around on bicycles to handle problems.

Good times!

Kymberleigh Richards February 28, 2014 at 8:00 PM

I can pinpoint a few of the closings a little better, based on the research I did for my website on the Valley's public transit. RTD had used some of the Pacific Drive-In locations during the daytime hours as park-ride lots in conjunction with their freeway express lines to downtown Los Angeles, and in most cases those arrangements were ended just prior to Pacific selling off those real estate parcels.

Line 716 from the Canoga Park Drive-In was rerouted to the Zodys parking lot in July, 1977.
Line 721 from the Van Nuys Drive-In was rerouted to continue west to Reseda in April, 1975 (although that was probably more in preparation for Pacific converting it to three screens).
Line 724 from the San-Val Drive In was cancelled August, 1975.

southern movies November 21, 2014 at 9:21 PM

Movies that are based on real life stories allow us to witness the life of others which was experienced by them in real life at some point in time.

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