Driving down Alvernon Way toward 22nd Street, the DeAnza Drive-In's bright green lettering is unmistakable. Providing the public with outdoor cinema entertainment since 1951, the DeAnza is one of the mere 384 drive-in theaters left in the United States today, a staunch difference from the upwards of 5000 that existed in the 1950s. Though drive-ins are rapidly disappearing, the DeAnza has continued to provide outdoor movies for thousands of people who love watching movies under the stars. For nearly 60 years, the DeAnza, which first opened under the name Cactus Drive-In, has been delighting Tucsonans with an out-of-the-ordinary moviegoing experience.
In recent Tucson history, the DeAnza has always been the one and only drive-in. With its four outdoor movie screens and inexpensive price tag, it allows an experience very different than that of the indoor movie theater.
"I've been going to the drive-in since I was a kid," recalled Sarah Bochnia, a theatre arts junior. "We used to go for birthdays and my friends and me would sit on top of the Jeep."
As a native Tucsonan, the drive-in was an integral part of my childhood as well. In elementary school, we would yearn to visit the drive-in and when a classmate bragged of their weekend movie outing, we'd pretend we weren't impressed, when all we ever wanted was to go. There is something so endearing about bringing your own food and sitting in the car while listening to a movie on the radio as it was projected right before your eyes. It was a tradition to keep the station on to see how far you could go and still be able to hear the credits as you began the trip home.
"You can bring food, pizza or anything, just sit in the back of a truck and watch a movie. It's just great," Bochnia said.
However, it hasn't always been rainbows and butterflies for the drive-in. Since 1998, threats of closing the theater and turning it into a retail shopping center have loomed while each attempt to sell has fallen through.
"I have so many memories from high school," said Kathy Mendez, who works at DeAnza's concession stand with Armando Nava, Alex Villegas and Lupe Gonzalez. "There is just so much here."
That sentiment was shared by each of the employees. As a third-generation employee, Nava spent his childhood at the DeAnza before starting work there at 16. To him the theater means a lot. "I'd hate to see it go," Nava said.
One snack bar employee who stood out was Gonzalez.
"You really want to know how long I've been working here?" Gonzalez laughed. "Since 1972. To see this place close would be a loss for Tucson."
It is telling that so many deals have fallen through, but with a closing scare as recently as last summer, many fear the theater's demise.
"Every time I hear about the drive-in I get excited, but then I forget. A lot of people don't realize it's here because it's not well advertised," Bochnia said.
She highlights a major issue the DeAnza faces. It seems many people simple don't know that the drive-in exists. Of the 30 students approached for interviews, five knew of the DeAnza and had visited. Even with all it has to offer, it seems the younger generation is simply oblivious to the drive-in's presence in town. Roy Zarow, a Tucson import from New York City is the self-proclaimed last projectionist in Tucson, possibly in all of Arizona. Roy feels strongly about Tucson's future and questions why projects like Rio Nuevo deny Tucson's history.
"The DeAnza is one of the last of its kind," Zarow said.
After moving to Tucson and making a brief stint back in New York, Zarow decided being a projectionist was something he wanted to do. Although the school had closed, he learned the art through friends.
"This is a piece of history. If this closed, we'd just lose another piece of Tucson much like the parts we lost with the building of the convention center," he said.
Zarow fully believes that Tucson, once a film capital, needs to rediscover those roots in order to capitalize on the city's history.
"If the DeAnza were to close, it'd be another tragedy for Tucson," he said.
Why go to the drive-in? With numerous attempts to close it down, it may seem reasonable that the DeAnza isn't worth visiting. That misconception needs to be quashed.
Laura Blanchette, a speech and hearing sciences junior, explained why she likes the drive-in.
"It's different because you're outdoors. We do so much inside. We're just indoors a lot. When you're there with friends, it can be social. You can talk and socialize in the car. You can't do that in a regular theatre," she said.
Blanchette makes a solid point. What happens if you talk in the theatre or sit too tall? She for one knows, "I was at the cheap seats two days ago and I was just sitting normal, up straight. I could hear the people behind me talking, saying how I was sitting too tall or moving or something."
These are issues you won't run into at the DeAnza.
Seeing a movie in a normal theatre, you may pay $20 or more. At the DeAnza, that same amount gets you a movie or two and a trip to the snack bar. It's a steal for students. Movie-style boxed candy is a little more than $1. Pizza and nachos, even with a drink, cost about $5 and that's only if you're going to purchase there. Bring your own food and you're seeing a movie with snacks for half the cost of a normal movie ticket.
With today's economic woes, the escape of a movie doesn't have to leave you hurting. So, get out and have your getaway from the real world with some leftover cash, too.
The DeAnza Drive-In is a hidden gem for Tucson. It is a great experience with a tiny price tag, which makes it hard to see why the DeAnza has come so close to closing so many times. Located only 10 minutes from the university, it's a social experience that reveals a little bit of Tucson history.
1401 S. Alvernon Way
children 12 & under free
Source: "Still standing" by Ali Freedman -Daily Wildcat. Read full article at: http://media.wildcat.arizona.edu/media/storage/paper997/news/2009/02/25/Wildlife/Still.Standing-3647309.shtml