Montclair’s Mission Drive-In Theater’s Demise Knells End Of Postwar Boom Era

Very early on the morning Monday January 23, the very last customers of Montclair’s historic Mission Drive-in drove out of the landmark after the screens’ last showings.
27.74 acres located at the northwest corner of Mission Boulevard and Ramona Avenue, consisting of San Bernardino County assessor parcel numbers 1012-151-20, 1012-151-27, 1012-151-28, 1012-151-29, 1012- 161-01, 1012-161-02, 1012-161-03, 1012-161-04, and 1012-161-05, include the nearly 27 acres of the drive-in.
On May 28, 1956, just 33 days after the City of Montclair, then known as Monte Vista, incorporated on April 25, 1956, impresarios/movie distributors William Oldknow and Jack Anderson opened their Mission Drive-In on the northwest corner of Ramona and Mission. About 750 cars were in the venue’s 1,350-stall auto gallery that first night to catch the main feature showing “Picnic” accompanied by “Star in the Dust.”
Over the years, it would showcase literally thousands of movies, including Bus Stop, the Conqueror, East of Eden, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Ten Commandments, 3:10 to Yuma, The Sweet Smell of Success, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Gigi, Touch of Evil, The Wreck of the Mary Deare, Solomon and Sheba, The Blob, The Day of the Outlaw, Peyton Place, Butterfield 8, Comanche Station, Please Don’t Eat The Daisies, The Time Machine, Psycho, Swiss Family Robinson, One-Eyed Jacks, Gidget Goes Hawaiian, Lawrence of Arabia, 101 Dalmatians, To Kill A Mockingbird, Cape Fear, Hatari!, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Zotz, From Russia With Love, The Ugly American, Jason and the Argonauts, Bedtime Story, Dr. Strangelove, Failsafe, Mary Poppins, Dr. Zhivago, Seven Days In May, The Bedford Incident, The Cincinnati Kid, The Good The Bad And The Ugly, Arabesque, Hawaii, Nevada Smith, What Did You Do in the War, Daddy, The San Pebbles, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff, Cool Hand Luke, Bonnie & Clyde, The Graduate, The Valley of the Dolls, The Jungle Book, Once Upon a Time in the West, Planet of The Apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ice Station Zebra, Rosemary’s Baby, The Boston Strangler, Bullitt, The Night of the Living Dead, Easy Rider, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Topaz, True Grit, A Man Called Horse, Little Big Man, Five Easy Pieces, Zabriskie Point, The Strawberry Statement, The Godfather, The French Connection, Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex, Gimme Shelter, Hooper, The Seven-Ups, Superfly, High Plains Drifter, Live and Let Die, The Parallax View, Chinatown, The Day of the Locust, The Man Who Would Be King, Marathon Man, Futureworld, The Hills Have Eyes, Annie Hall, Star Wars, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, The Deer Hunter, Animal House, An Enemy of The People, The Midnight Express, The Shining, Apocalypse Now! Ordinary People, Raging Bull, Body Heat, Reds, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghost Busters, Rain Man, Full Metal Jacket, Batman, Goodfellas, Schindler’s List,
Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, Fargo, The English Patient, LA Confidential Swingblade, Saving Private Ryan, the Big Lebowski, Titanic, The Lord of The Rings, The Departed, The Hurt Locker, The Artist, Life of Pi, Argo, Zero Dark Thirty, 12 Years a Slave, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, The Revenant, Ex Machina, Spotlight, Manchester by the Sea, The Shape of Water, Roma, Green Book, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Parasite, Nomadland and Coda.
By the mid-1960s, the Mission Theater grounds were doubling, from early morning until 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings and afternoons, as a swap meet venue.
In 1975, just as outdoor theaters were losing their cachet and many throughout Southern California were starting to close, the Mission theater’s ownership went in the other direction, investing in an expansion to four screens, one at the northwest corner of the property, the northeast corner, the southeast corner and the southwest corner. That proved to be a wise investment, as the indoor Montclair Theater on Holt Avenue and its cinemas at the Montclair Plaza all went under over the next quarter century.
Ten year’s after converting to four screens, the theater dispensed with most of its sound system stands with their speakers, instead broadcasting at the low end of the AM band so that those in the vehicles could listen to the audio portion of the movie on their car radios.
With the turn of the millennium, the Mission was going strong, having a niche as one of the region’s last remaining drive-in theaters, drawing customers from all over. In 2006, the theater rebranded itself as the Mission Tiki Theater, using a Tahitian theme, just as it reached being a half century old. That included improved screens and setting up an FM radio sound system, an improvement over the AM reception.
In 2013, the theater was yet thriving, which justified another investment, this time a conversion to a crystal clear digital projection system.
Despite the site’s long-running use remaining economically viable, the value of selling the property to Oakmont Industrial Group for a one-time $34.4 million killing became irresistible.
According to Montclair Community Development Director Michael Diaz, there has been a filing of a notice of determination in with regard to a development proposal fled by Mission Boulevard Industrial Owner, L.P., which acquired the property from the company, De Anza Land and Leisure, which was operating the theater.
That development proposal, according to Diaz, is to transform the Mission Tiki Theater into the Mission Boulevard and Ramona Avenue Business Park.
In making a project description, Diaz told the Montclair City Council in a report, that the “Precise plan of design [is] to approve the development of 513,295 square feet of flexible industrial space; [approve a] tract map to consolidate the nine existing parcels on the project site into eight parcels; [approve a] general plan amendment to change the project site’s general plan land use designation from General Commercial to Limited Manufacturing and Industrial Park; and [approve] a zone change to change the project site’s zoning from M1 Limited Manufacturing, MIP Manufacturing Industrial, and C3 General Commercial to M1 Limited Manufacturing and MIP Manufacturing Industrial.”
According to Diaz, “on December 19, 2022 the City of Montclair, acting as lead agency, certified the project’s environmental impact report and made certain California Environmental Quality Act findings, approved Tentative Tract Map No. 20381 and a precise plan of design, approved the general plan amendment, introduced for first reading Ordinance No. 23-1003 approving the zone change… and made the following findings: 1) The project will have a significant effect on the environment. 2) An environmental impact report was prepared for this project pursuant to the provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act. 3) Mitigation measures were made a condition of approval of the project. 4) A mitigation reporting or monitoring plan was adopted for this project. 5) A statement of overriding considerations was adopted for this project. 6) Findings were made pursuant to the provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act.”
Diaz told the council he was certifying that “the final environmental impact report with comments, and responses, any necessary errata, and the record of project approval is available to the general public at 5111 Benito Street, Montclair, California 91763.”
The project was brought before the city council, which signed off on allowing Mission Boulevard Industrial Owner, L.P. to proceed with the project, on January 17, 2023.

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