Bulldozing of DeAnza not end of era if one guy gets his way

The demise of Tucson’s DeAnza Drive-In theater is not the end of the drive-in in Tucson – at least not if local guy Charles Spillar gets his way.

Goodbye, bathrooms and conession stand/submitted photo

Goodbye, bathrooms and concession stand/submitted photo

Spillar never even went to a movie there – but he wants to save it anyway.

Well, he can’t save the whole theater.

The theater, originally called Cactus Drive-In when it opened in 1951, has already been reduced to rubble.

DeAnza's new look/Ryn Gargulinski

DeAnza's new look/Ryn Gargulinski

The last of the big screens came down Wednesday, but just because it’s down doesn’t mean it’s out. Spillar’s goal is to salvage the screen to create another Tucson drive-in. Exact location – and funds to make this happen – have yet to be determined. DeAnza’s bulldozing was sped up ahead of schedule due to graffiti, vandals and other undesirable activity.

Dismantling on April 7/Ryn Gargulinski

Dismantling on April 7/Ryn Gargulinski

“The big screen I am trying hard to save was created in 1956 and one of the first CINEMASCOPE screens in America I have heard of,” Spillar said. “I am involved with the DeAnza project because I believe the community of Tucson really wants it and I have had years of experience in L.A., Oklahoma, Colorado, California attending drive-in movies and I hope that it is an experience in one’s life everyone enjoys.”

This guy has been pretty busy doing more than movie hopping. The TC.com art blogger is something of a preservation specialist. Spillar worked hard in restoration efforts for the quirky 1920s-era fantasyland Valley of the Moon and was also the driving force behind the rescue of the Magic Carpet neon sign and statues, which now have new homes around town.

Magic Carpet tiki head ready for transport to The Hut on Fourth Ave/Ryn Gargulinski

Magic Carpet Tiki head readying for transport to The Hut on Fourth Ave/Ryn Gargulinski

The neon sign will be one of three historic signs making up a neon park on Pima Community College property. “More on that later,” Spillar promises.

In the meantime, Spillar is working with Evergreen Devco Inc., the company that bought the DeAnza property, as well as Tucson community leaders to keep the big screen from extinction.

Farewell, DeAnza/Ryn Gargulinski

Farewell, DeAnza/Ryn Gargulinski

The American drive-in has been the location of many a first date, first kiss, first beer or first time we got to actually put our feet up during a movie without being yelled at by the person in front of us.

I’ve been to DeAnza thrice during my three years in Tucson. Aside from one couple in front of us who decided to play jack-in-the-box by constantly propping their hatchback up and down throughout the movie, DeAnza was a glorious experience.

Actually, the hatchback couple added to the amusement. When my beau went to ask them to please stop blocking the screen, all he saw was a pair of legs sticking out of the car. And this was not a teenage couple.

Truck carting off the rubble April 7/Ryn Gargulinski

Truck carting off DeAnza rubble April 7/Ryn Gargulinski

We need a drive-in in Tucson – just like we need quirky fantasylands and equally quirky giant Tiki heads.

Thank you, Charlie, for making it happen.



What do you think?

What’s your fondest memory of the drive-in?

What’s your strangest?

Is the death of the American drive-in a horrific thing or don’t you care?

Have you been to DeAnza? Would you go to a new Tucson drive-in?


About Rynski

Writer, artist, performer who specializes in the weird, wacky and sometimes creepy. Learn more at ryngargulinski.com.
This entry was posted in art, danger, environment, life, notable folks, odd pueblo and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to Bulldozing of DeAnza not end of era if one guy gets his way

  1. Joanne says:

    I have great memories of  De Anza drive-in..As a kid I would go all the time..with my parents, cousins, and my best friend Lisa. Two of my fondest and funniest memories are when my parents wanted to go see Scarface. I was7 or 8.My brother was 5..My parents waited for the latest movie so we could be asleep.But ofcourse, as a curious kid, I peaked my head up once in a while, with my eyes squinting..Second favorite memory is when we loaded up two cars with family and we went to go see Mask..us younger kids sat outside,scarfing down nachos,hot dogs, and gummy bears from the concession stands..As I got older I had a couple of nice moments, sitting on the bed of the truck with my crush and imagining the impossible while we looked up at the crystal clear night sky..Ahhhhh. AWESOME 🙂

    • Rynski says:

      awww, those are great memories, joanne. thanks for sharing them!
      i don’t have early deanza memories, as i had my first drive-in experience at age 5 back in michigan. but i have memories! the movie was JAWS. i think my parents, like yours, were figuring i’d go to sleep.
      instead i kept throwing my doll out the window and continue to harbor a massive fear of sharks to this day. hahahaha. hope you’re not scared of chainsaws based on your first drive-in movie….

  2. Andrew Ulanowski says:

    Morning Ryn! I love going to movies from time to time and especially to a drive-in! I have never been to the DeAnza and am sorry I missed the chance. I used to go to the drive-in in Phoenix from time to time and my best memories of the movies were as a kid in Chicago, IL.
    Now that I live in Tucson, I go to The Loft fairly frequently. (Mike and Spike’s New Generation Animations starting April 16th is my next adventure) I also attend the cheap seat theaters, Oracle View and Crossroads. After 9p it’s a $1.50 to see a movie!
    Best drive-in date I ever had was in Perth, Western Australia with my then sweetheart Anna Muir of the Nedlands Muirs. I don’t remember what movie it was (*WEG*) but I do remember we had a large pizza to sate our hunger . . .

    • Rynski says:

      hiya andrew!
      you have awesome drive-in memories, too…that dear anna muir of the nedlands muirs – hahahha
      also like your movie moments in general. i’ve never been to the loft but from what i hear from folks like yourself it’s the coolest. cheap movies, too, are always cool! but i’d prob. fall asleep if i went to a movie that started after 9 p.m. – hahahah. at least the drive-ins started around 8-ish….

  3. the-cholla-jumps says:

    Everyone says how much they loved it, your poll says 81% want a drive-in, then why didn’t you go when it was open?  Those days are gone, their need obsolete. Use the land for better things.

    • Rynski says:

      joanne went. i went. the couple with the jack-in-the-box hatchback went…hahah
      what would be a better thing?

    • Aaron says:

      I certainly went, many times.  The need is not obsolete.  I hope a suitable patch of land can be found and a new one opened.

    • Elmo Questions says:

      For your information the DeAnza showed a profit when it closed obviously because of support from the community.  You are probably a person that would rather have a Circle K in your neighborhood.

  4. ericheithaus says:

    You go Charlie!

  5. Debra says:

    When I first moved to Tucson three years ago, I went to the De Anza on four different nights in the first two weeks. I was thrilled to be where there was a drive-in and now feel a great sadness at its demise. Drive-in theaters evoke a flood of memories that take me all the way back to my first recollections at the age of four. My father was stationed at Fort Huachuca in the lat 50’s and we went to a drive-in and saw a movie with a Cyclops in it. I saw many many movies at drive-in’s throughout my childhood and teen years.  Yes, I would frequent the drive-in if there was another one put in.

    • Rynski says:

      cyclops is just as scary as JAWS – hahha. thanks for input, debra. glad to hear you are as fond as the drive-in as i am.
      i, too, would go to the new drive-in. i especially like the updated sound systems where you can listen to the movies on your car radio rather than those tinny speakers.
      but i like the retro feel of the rest of it.

  6. jennatoolz says:

    Hey Ryn!! I’ve been to the ol’ DeAnza a couple times since I moved to Tucson. Good times were had every time…except for the time when my stereo decided to stop working mid-flick. Bummer! 😛

    • Rynski says:

      hey jeanna!
      i JUST wrote the comment above about liking the car stereo sound option – hahah. you must have been reading my mind. that IS a bummer. but the drive-in is one of those places where i bet a fellow movie watcher would let you sit close enough to hear their stereo. oh! and also take a little radio along for backup – then you can also sit in the back of a pickup.
      glad to hear you’re a drive-in fan, too.

      • jennatoolz says:

        Didn’t you know I’m psychic?? Hahah, kidding of course.
        Good idea on the backup radio. I’ll have to remember that if I ever get a chance to visit a drive-in theater again. I do recall driving by DeAnza just this past Saturday and everything was still standing (pretty much). My how they work fast!!

        I also see that the company that I work for is helping them with the rubble removal (that big green roll-off can!) I’m not sure if thats a good thing or a bad thing in this case! 😛

      • Rynski says:

        yeah, folks seem to work REALLY fast when they are destroying something … much, much slower when they are building something. amazing – hahah.
        i think it’s good your company got deanza bid – someone’s gotta do it – and LOOK, now they get free publicity on blog with that gorgeous dumpster – haha (i was dying to dig through it but i figured i’d get all scratched up and such).

      • azmouse says:

        Hey! Did you watch the show ‘Undercover Boss’ when it was about your company!??! Good show!

      • jennatoolz says:

        Yep, I sure did azmouse! They had it plastered everywhere here at the office (and my email inbox). They even sent out little “gifts” containing some popcorn and a flyer to remind us to watch. Lol

      • azmouse says:

        That is so cool! The boss seems like a great guy, by the way

  7. Trina says:

    I used to go to the drive in a lot.When I moved out north the distance was just to far to go. It was nice taking my daughter to her first drive in! We have the best weather for a drive in! I hope he reopens it. I think the North side of town would be an optimal spot for it!

    • Rynski says:

      hiya trina – the northside would be an ideal spot – lots less congestion and pesky lights. also agree we have dandy drive-in weather. so glad your daughter got to experience the joy of deanza…and hopefully we all will again in future.

  8. koreyk says:

    When I was about 13, my mother was driving me and a friend home from somewhere, when we passed “Last Summer” playing at the Prince Road Drive-In.  I told her Barbara Hershey was about to do a topless scene and asked her (begged is probably more accurate) to pull over to the side street.

    She complied, and we all watched the last 10 minutes or so together.

  9. azmouse says:

    I have too many memories of DeAnza drive-in!

    My very first ‘car date’ (as my parents called it) was there. I was sooo nervous. I wasn’t suppose to get to go on my first car date till sixteen, but my parents made an exception because my Mom knew his Grandma. His name was Kenny and he was seventeen, I was fifteen and we were in his Pinto! HA   He was shy, I was scared and we didn’t talk much. Boy….was he hot! We were together for almost five years. Oh, he took me to see the Apple Dumpling Gang!!! HaHaHa. NERD!

    I went with a huge group of friends to see Phantasm there too. Great flick! It was just a big party.

    One time when my kids were little…Sebastian wasn’t even born, Wesley was maybe two years old or so, and Sara maybe four or five? Anyway, hubby was out of town so I packed up the kids to go to DeAnza so I could see Silence of the Lambs! Spread out a blanket on the ground with a bunch of toys for the kids and had a blast.

    I could go on forever about my memories….

  10. Elizabeth says:

    I miss the DeAnza so much!  My partner and I went on a million dates there when we first started seeing each other.  It was the only place we could go and cuddle up together without people staring at us.  We fell in love at the DeAnza!

  11. radmax says:

    Hello Rynski! What a fine piece on Old Pueblo history you have ‘put to paper’ here!
    When my pals and I were bored and broke on a hot summers eve, we often headed for the Apache drive in. Four bucks a carload(truckload). Not bad if you consider we used to cram 8-10 people in my old F-100. I couldn’t tell ya much about the features, 😉 but we always had a great time!
    I sure hope that if we do get another drive-in, the area is DARK enough.(ambient light kills them)
    Ps- the Cactus-DeAnza was too expensive back in the day, so we loaded as many folks in car trunks as we could. 🙂

    • azmouse says:

      We used to do the trunk thing too! lol
      The Apache was a better deal. Hey Maxxie, what was the other drive-in called…wasn’t it down on Grant near I-10?

  12. Kisinkona says:

    Was just thinking about all the people that are living now that were conceived there….LOL  Well it’s true….:)

  13. koreyk says:

     I believe the following, which I found on the Cinema Tour website, is a complete list of all of Tucson’s lost Drive-Ins.

    22nd Street (1401 S Belvedere)
    Apache (1600 E Benson Hwy)
    Fiesta (3230 S Park)
    Cactus/ DeAnza (1401 S Alvernon)
    Midway (4500 E Speedway)
    Miracle Mile (600 W Glenn)
    Prince (2015 E Prince)
    Rodeo (5101 S Nogales Highway)
    Tucson 5 (1055 W Grant)


    The captcha is:  last enshrine

  14. Tina says:

    I LOVED THE DeAnza, I remember going and watching Roger Rabbit with My parents that are no longer together..And my mom holding my hand to walk to the bathroom…I loved the nacho’s.yummy.. i went many times after with family and friends..A tear comes to my eye thinking about “Money Hungry Fools” tareing down all my memories…..=*0(

  15. Tina says:

    OMG…and i remember going to the apartments behind the DeAnza trying to watch the Movies…Aww how freaking funny..It never did work…

  16. Karen Dombrowski-Sobel says:

    Hooray Charlie. What wonderful memories I have about drive ins.

  17. Greg Campbell says:

    summer job at the DeAnza and Midway, remember walking through the lot during the second show. what an education. People would sit behind the fence on the south side and for a couple bucks we would turn up speakers. the priceless moment was watching the expressions on people getting out of trunks and yelling at the drivers after getting rattled around.

  18. Randy says:

    I live in Florida and go to Tucson for a couple weeks every year. I used to go to the DeAnza 4 or 5 times during those two weeks. i was saddened this past year on its closing………..Randy

  19. David Q says:

    Loved going there as a high school teenager, college student, and as an older adult…It is just a piece of the past that should be re-lived by our children and grandchildren especially in warmer climates like Tucson (or should I say HOTTER evenings during the summer). Hopefully another one will come up in Tucson

  20. George C says:

    Where do I start?  The Cactus/DeAnza Drive-In as well as all of the others hold so much of a memory for me.
    I am one of those folks who can say they attended every drive-in that ever existed in Tucson except the short lived Tucson-Driv In which was where Southgate is now and closed in 1942 before I was even born.
    I’ve been a resident of Tucson for 46 years and couldn’t count the number of times I visited the drive-ins with a girlfriend, or after I got married, my wife.
    As a young college student, it was the place to take a new date as the price was right, the food was cheap and if the movie was dull, you could just cuddle.
    My wife and I used to go nearly every weekend to the DeAnza, sometimes as many as 50 times a year.  In the last decade, I had been there so often that I knew every inch of the property and had seen many of the same customers week after week.
    It got to be a joke when I walked in the snack bar as they knew my order by heart and would just plop down a large bag of popcorn, no butter, and a large nachos, extra cheese and jalapenos on the side please!  And I always got some sort of candy and we often had the ice cream or a hot dog or hamburger just for something different.
    It didn’t matter if the movie was a blockbuster or something the critics panned.  Just being able to sit there in your car, take off you shoes and lean back and munch popcorn and talk about the movie made it special.
    During the warmer months we took our convertible as watching the movies under the stars and listening to the sound on a good stereo made it a magical experience.  It was like watching a movie on a 60 foot home theater, and all for $6 a person!
    It was a family venue and we always saw lots of the same families with young kids.  Where else in Tucson could a large family go for a movie without taking out a second mortgage?
    Mike Cecil, the manager got to know me by sight and would sometimes surprise me with little things that they had found tucked away in a dusty corner like the tickets from many years past when the theater charged $2.50 admission.  What a priceless memento of a great place to spend a lot of your hours being entertained!
    Sadly the DeAnza folks just didn’t seem to want the theater and it was up for sale almost every year since 1998.  Contrast this to their Mission-Tiki and  Rubidoux in California,  Starlite in Atlanta, and the Redwood in Utah.  They have flashy web sites and always offered special events and other things to keep you coming.  Why was the DeAnza Tucson treated so poorly?
    Tucson is an almost ideal place for a drive-in, what with the warm weather and little rain, it’s a 365 day a year possibility here.
    Hopefully the New Cactus Drive-In project will be able to bring back those fond memories for future Tucsonans and their families.
    I miss the drive-in so much!

    • Linda says:

      Although it had been a while since I had been to the DeAnza, I  felt a twinge of sadness each time I drove by and saw it abandoned. I ‘m glad that Charlie Spillar and his group are working to revive a wonderful outdoor, night-time  experience.  Sometimes the movie was secondary to the fun of people watching, the kids playing outside the car, or snuggling with that special  someone.  TV in the den doesn’t quite compare.
      Thanks, Charlie!
      Keep up the good work!

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