Tucson Drive-Ins 

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My first car was a Jaguar E-Type roadster and I spent many date nights at the local drive-ins. My fondest memories of innocent fun are connected with the theatres and movies from the late '60's and early '70's.

Photos of my current E-Type at our last drive-in. [Taken in 2000]

Drive-In theaters were an integral part of the Tucson automotive scene for over 60 years.

drive in speakers
Drive-In Memorabilia Store

Restoring Drive-In Speakers

Drive-Ins That Were Never Built

And a local Drive-In Church

My Personal Memories of Drive-Ins

Here's a great book on the history of drive-ins. Click on the cover to go to Amazon.com to buy it..

The American Drive-In Theatre

If you have additional info to contribute about drive-in theaters that you have known, especially in Arizona, E-Mail me. 

A little history of Drive-In theaters.
DeAnza Drive In

Tucson AZ is in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, a metropolitan area of nearly one million people.

We get an average of less than 12 inches of rain a year so until the monsoon season of August and September, rarely see any significant rain.

We host the University of Arizona, a huge college that specializes in astronomy. As a result, Pima County has a "dark skies" initiative which regulates street lights, neon signs, and illumination to protect the astronomy industry.

The DeAnza drive-in was located nearly in the center of this city. We have a dozen or so indoors, some with as many as 20 screens.

So why didn't the DeAnza survive? As I write this in November 2009, it's 86 degrees outside so weather wasn't a factor.

Several years ago, the DeAnza folks invested in a new coat of paint and upgraded to Technalite, making the drive-in screens brighter than most indoors. They also had reasonable prices in the snack bar, a large popcorn was $4.75. Admission was $6 for adults and $1 for children under 12.

Then within a year, they offered the property up for sale. That sale fell through and again in 2008 they offered it for sale. That sale fell through due to the prospective developer not being able to find any prospective tenants.

They finally offered it to the last potential buyer and walked away from it it on October 3, 2009.

Was it because of attendance? Maybe but they never made any effort to promote it. No web site, no special events, no advertising other than a tiny movie listing. Contrast this with their Rubidoux, Mission Tiki, Starlite, and Redwood 6 which have web presences and considerable promotion.

Why was the Tucson Drive-In treated like a leper and nothing done to promote it nor any maintenance performed? Only the former owners know what their business model was.

The DeAnza folks started buying drive-in properties in the 1950's and were known at that time as SERO Enterprises, a name made up of the last initials of the owners of the company. At one time they owned some 127 drive-in properties. They purchased these properties as a "land bank," hedging on the premise that real estate would only increase in value and they could make a few dollars while it appreciated.

During the late 1970's, they closed many of their Tucson properties and sold the land, choosing only to keep the Apache Drive-in and the Cactus drive-in. They tripled both of these and later added a fourth screen to the Cactus/DeAnza to compete with the Syufy Tucson Drive-In which had added a fifth screen in 1978.

One of the Tucson properties, the 22nd street drive-in was located about four blocks from the DeAnza and the 18 acres are still vacant to this day, never finding a developer who wanted to do anything with the land.

I know of at least four theater owners who would have been happy to lease/purchase the property and continue running it as a drive-in. Why did they not choose this route and only sold out for the quick buck? Only they know the answer.

So after nearly 67 years, Tucson is without a drive-in theater. Will there ever be another? Who knows, maybes some entrepreneur who appreciates the value of a good locally owned business will try again.

I hope so. I miss our landmark drive-ins.

My wife and I attended the DeAnza on its last night, October 3, 2009 in our 40 year old Jaguar XK-E convertable. It seemed a fitting tribute for a classic car and and a classic Tucson icon.

We saw "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" but left before the second feature as we had already seen it. We couldn't stand to see the screens go dark for the last time.

As we slowly drove out for the last time, I had a tear in my eyes because I knew we were leaving for the last time, never to see a movie in a drive-in the way it was meant to be. No matter what the property becomes, I will never visit it again because it was like a death in the family. For the 46 years I have been in Tucson, it has been one of the primary means of my entertainment. Nothing will ever replace it.

Footnote:

In April 2010 the developer tore down the drive-in. Because it had been vacant, it became a haven for crime and prostitution and the police insisted that they do something with the property.

A local man managed to salvage the big screen and marque and it's stored away now, hopefully to arise again somewhere else.

So long DeAnza/Cactus. So long Tucson drive-ins. It was an icon and didn't deserve this ignomimous end.


I love drive-in movie theaters! To me they represent the ultimate in personal movie viewing. Where else can you watch a double feature, eat and drink and talk about the movie with your best friend in the comfort and privacy of your own vehicle?

At one time, Tucson Arizona hosted ten different drive-in movie theaters! They varied from single screen theaters to the ultimate 5 screen known as the Tucson 5 (What else!). They have disappeared one by one over the years until only one is left, and that one may disappear at anytime. Here's a chart of the theaters and the date they left us.

Apache 3 Screens 1600 East Benson Highway Opened 1955
Closed 1994
History of the Apache
Rodeo 1 Screen 5101 South Nogales Highway Opened
1949
Closed 1981
History of the Rodeo
Midway 1 Screen 4500 E Speedway Blvd. Opened 1948
Closed 1976
History of the Midway
22 Street Drive-In 1 Screen 1401 So. Belvedere Closed 1979 History of the 22nd Street
Fiesta 1 Screen 3200 South Park Avenue Opened
1953
Closed 1966
History of the Fiesta
Prince 1 Screen 2015 E. Prince Rd Opened 1953
Closed 1976
History of the Prince
Tucson Driv-In 1 Screen Ajo Way at 6th Ave. Opened 1940
Closed 1942
History of Our 1st Drive-In.
Tucson 5 Drive-In 5 Screens 1055 West Grant Road Opened 1974
Closed 1988
History of the Tucson 5 Drive-In
Miracle Mile 1 Screen Miracle Mile at Glenn Opened
1950
Closed 1978
Originally
Called The
Biltmore
Motor-Vue
Cactus 1 Screen 1401 South Alvernon Opened 1951
Closed 1976
History of the Cactus
DeAnza 4 Screens 1401 South Alvernon Opened 1977
Closed Oct 3, 2009
History of the DeAnza

Drive-Ins were very popular in the Tucson area. Because of our mild weather, sometimes reaching the 70's in the winter, drive-ins were a 12 month operation here. Only one drive-in ever offered in-car heaters and that was the Sfufy owned Tucson 4 (later Tucson 5) drive-in at Grant Road and Interstate 10.

As the city grew, the land they occupied became too valuable to only be used by night. One by one they came crashing down to be replaced by shopping malls and large multi-screen indoor multiplexes. Here's some local newspaper coverage as we dwindled to the last operating theatre.


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