Hi-Way Drive-In closes after its six decades in Santa Maria
Hi-Way Drive-In rolled its final credits Thursday night as a 61-year era ended for Santa Maria moviegoers.
The last film was the blockbuster “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” and the site has been sold to People’s Self-Help Housing for the construction of a low-income housing project.
In December, the Santa Maria City Council voted to change the zoning from commercial to residential, which is seen as the first step in the process to build the project. After the council’s vote, Ken Triguerio, the president and CEO of People’s Self-Help Housing, told the News-Press that construction won’t begin for probably another two years.
PSHH bought the site from the Gran family, who owned the drive-in since 1978. The theater opened in 1961.
Family members said they made the decision to close the theater “with great sadness.”
“We gave it our all, but due to the current economic climate and the ever-changing film industry, our business as a drive-in theater is unfortunately no longer viable,” the family said at playingtoday.com, which has served as the website for Hi-Way Drive-In.
Like indoor theaters, drive-ins have faced competition from streaming services, on which new movies often premiere the same day they’re released in theaters.
But even before streaming, drive-in theaters faced challenges.
Once as common in America as apple pie, drive-in theaters stretched coast to coast in big cities and small towns alike. They were the place for families to get everyone together in a station wagon (later an SUV), the place for dates, the place where friends could sit together and watch a movie and talk without bothering anyone.
But the advent of VCRs, DVDs and multiplex indoor theaters led to challenges, and drive-in theaters were closing in the 1990s and early 2000s.
In Simi Valley, the Simi Drive-in stopped showing movies in the early 1990s. An outdoor mall with a giant parking lot replaced the 101 Drive-in, a Ventura site with three screens and the capability to house 800 cars. The theater, which opened in 1948 with the Ronald Reagan movie “Stallion Road,” was demolished in 2001.
In 2019, the West Wind Drive-in in Goleta closed, but it re-emerged the next year when the pandemic’s lockdown closed indoor theaters. The theater has remained popular, even with the reopening of indoor theaters.
Besides showing commercial hits, West Wind is popular today as a place for screenings of movies presented by UCSB Arts & Lectures, Cottage Health and other local organizations.
And with the closure of Hi-Way Drive-in, West Wind is now the only drive-in theater in Santa Barbara County. The only other drive-in theater on the Central Coast is Sunset Drive-in in San Luis Obispo.
There are just 15 drive-in theaters today in California.
The family who owned Hi-Way Drive-In expressed its gratitude to its “wonderful and loyal customers over the past 43 years.”
“We are especially grateful to all of our current and past employees who worked so hard to keep us open,” the family said at playingtoday.com.
The message closed with: “Thank you for all the good years. With much appreciation and a heavy heart, the Gran Family.”