The sun is setting on Montclair’s outdoor movie theater.

In operation since Dwight Eisenhower was president, and opened weeks before Elvis Presley recorded “Hound Dog,” Mission Tiki Drive-In weathered many ups and downs in succeeding decades as drive-ins faded in popularity and then experienced a resurgence in the 21st century.

But business slowed, a victim of changing tastes and movie streaming. A few weeks ago, the 27-acre property at Mission Boulevard and Ramona Avenue quietly changed hands.

“The theater has been sold and will continue operating through the end of the year,” Frank Huttinger, vice president of De Anza Land and Leisure Corp., the drive-in’s owner and operator, told me Tuesday, Oct. 29.

Its buyer is a developer who plans a technology-focused business park, according to City Manager Ed Starr.

“We were surprised. They’ve had lots of interest over the years and they never wanted to sell,” Starr said of the family-owned drive-in.

The Mission survived even as other local drive-ins fell by the wayside: the Valley in Ontario, the Foothill in Rialto, the Mt. Baldy in La Verne, the Azusa Foothill in Azusa.

William Oldknow and Jack Anderson opened the Mission Drive-In on May 28, 1956, in what was then known as Monte Vista. Its 1,350-car capacity made it the third-largest drive-in in Southern California, according to a story on its opening in the Pomona Progress-Bulletin. The curved screen, 50 feet high and 122 feet wide, was designed for CinemaScope pictures.

The opening program was “Picnic” with William Holden and Kim Novak paired with the B-movie “Star in the Dust” with John Agar and Mamie Van Doren.

A swap meet generated money during the daytime. The single screen was bulldozed in 1975 to make way for four screens, one at each corner of the vast parking lot. The Mission became an outdoor multiplex.

The property gradually deteriorated, and in a spasm of violence in 1979 during the street-gang movie “Boulevard Nights,” a patron was shot and two more were stabbed.

By the dawn of the 21st century, Montclair’s indoor theaters had all closed and the Mission’s parking lot had crumbled into gravel. The next generation of the Oldknow family was ready to inject money and attention into its drive-in holdings, which include the Van Buren and the Rubidoux, both outside Riverside, to see what happened. The Rubidoux got the first makeover and business doubled.

In 2006 the Mission became the Mission Tiki, putting a modern spin on two 1950s obsessions: drive-in movies and tiki culture. The ticket booths and concession stand were decorated like grass huts and Easter Island-like tiki heads were placed amid tropical foliage. Employees donned Hawaiian shirts.

More substantially, the parking lot was repaved, a new projection system installed and the screens painted for a brighter image. The old individual speakers were ripped out. Moviegoers now hear the sound over FM stereo.

The Mission’s 50th anniversary was marked that year with tiki vendors, classic cars, surf and rockabilly bands and three classic B-movies: “Cobra Woman,” “The Creeping Flesh” and “Hard Ticket to Hawaii.”

I went to hear one of the ’60s bands: Davie Allan and the Arrows. How could I resist? I still have my signed CDs from that day.

With the demise of film, a digital projection system was installed in 2013. But business, which had surged after the rebranding, was already dropping.

“Theater attendance has gone down incrementally year by year. Even with advertising and social media, revenues have been down,” Huttinger said.

The Mission, he said, has a core of regulars who appreciate the experience and the pricing: $1 for children 5 to 9, $9 for anyone 10 and up.

“The people who know it really love it,” Huttinger said.  “We don’t get new customers.”

He said several unsolicited offers for the property had come in this year but neither De Anza nor City Hall was interested in their proposals for warehouses. The third and most recent proposal found more favor.

Starr said Montclair would allow two warehouses as part of a campus with offices, a technology incubator, and medical and educational uses. He said talks have been productive. Such a project would require a zone change from commercial, industrial and light manufacturing to manufacturing and light industry.

Montclair won’t be without movies for long. A 12-screen AMC movie complex is under construction at Montclair Place mall to open in summer 2020.

Huttinger, who grew up in the business, said the Mission’s demise is personally disappointing. But modern movies aren’t always a good fit with the drive-in audience. Marvel’s sequels fare poorly. With movies pushing past the two-hour mark, the Mission’s second feature during summertime might not start until close to midnight.

The swap meet portion of the business has been in decline as well, with fewer customers and a corresponding drop in vendors, many of whom are Latino. It operates from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday.

Huttinger said the last day would fall around Christmas, depending on studio requirements on how long their movies must play.

The Mission doesn’t plan a big sendoff for itself. For one thing, nothing is being celebrated; for another, fall and winter are the off-season.

“We’re just being quiet. We’re not doing a lot to publicize that it’s closing,” Huttinger said.

I guess that’s where I come in.

The lineup for Friday: “Zombieland: Double Tap” with “Black and Blue”; “The Addams Family” with “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”; “Terminator: Dark Fate” with “Joker”; and “Arctic Dogs” with “Gemini Man.” Box office opens at 6:45 p.m. and movies start at 7:30.

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