The Demolition of Mission Tiki

The screen has gone dark for the final time at mission tiki as the credits roll on its history 


Famous Montclair landmark Mission Tiki Drive-in has announced its permanent closing this January, due to the land being turned into a warehouse facility. As Michael Diaz, Montclair city planner commented “The warehouses are designed to be flexible to accommodate different users…maybe a medical use or some kind of other community-based business or school,” The bottom half of the property will comprise of six small warehouses, while the upper north division will harbor two large ones 

Origins of Mission Tiki 

Our beloved drive-in was owned by 73-year-old Frank Huttinger, CEO of DeAnza Land and Leisure. Which is a company that purchases and renovates drive-ins. They have owned and operated drive-in theaters in LA county for over 70 years, most notably the Gilmore Drive-In in Los Angeles, and the Victory Drive-In in Van Nuys. They were eventually converted into a shopping center in the ’80s. The Mission Tiki Drive-In Theater in Montclair was unlike these other short-lasting theaters, as it has been operating since 1956 and owned by Land and Leisure since its founding. What started off as a single-screen, 1,200 car venue soon evolved into a four-screen 2,000 car venue.

The final show?

  The theater was running on borrowed time since the company had originally announced its wishes to close it down in 2019. Thankfully, the work of altruistic community members postponed its final curtain call and amid COVID, an unconventional array of movies was shown to its last, unconventional generation. As Frank Huttinger said ¨We didn’t have much to play outside of a couple of movies from the major studios, so we blended independent films…four simulcast concerts, and ran films from Amazon and A24 that are not typical drive-in fare…I was the first one to put Goonies and Gremlins together¨ with its time rapidly dwindling, numerous movies only got one showing, and due to the deficiency of movies, vastly different movie genres were grouped together, showing adult horror movies like M3GAN with lighthearted family features like Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. 

Effects on our community

Although some community members may benefit from the construction of the new buildings, losing the drive-in means losing a part of what makes the city of Montclair so unique. 

Pomona resident Robert Wilkiewicz created a petition to save the theater upon the announcement of its closing about a month ago. To date, it had reached 3,536 signatures.“(There are) people that come from outside of the city to see the drive-in theater,” Wilkiewicz said. “They don’t come to see warehouses…There should be families smiling and making memories on that property. We will no longer sit and do nothing while people with no concern (over us) let our city put business over public…interest.¨ 

The Drive-in supported and allowed many low-income families the opportunity for a safe, affordable family outing, which due to recent economic disparities and inflation, its prospect is diminishing. Girl Scouts of Montclair´s annual summer meetings were at the Drive-in. It was the home of numerous memories and crucial bonding activities for the disadvantaged youth of our local neighborhoods. Along with its fond memories, It also supplied many essential blue-collar jobs for our community, with its ticket agents, flea market vendors, etc. The substitute jobs provided in these warehouses continually leave our community members overworked and underpaid. 

Along with the damaging effects on the spirits of our residents and our city economy, many citizens are also concerned about the health risk that these warehouses propose and the considerable carbon dioxide emissions. Many fellow SoCal communities suffer from high rates of toxic emissions, traffic problems, and some of the worst pollution in the US already, a warehouse would only augment the issue. A 2017 study found that warehouse-related emissions amounted to 380 million tons of carbon dioxide annually in the united states. The People’s Collective for Environmental Justice (PCEJ) also disclosed that warehouses are in the top 10% of worst census tracts for traffic-related pollution. 

This leaves countless residents to worry about its destructive effects on the schools, hospitals, and homes in the area, as Montclair resident Michael Stolte notes, ¨Did the residents downwind of the proposed warehouses agree to vast amounts of diesel fumes and soot drifting into their homes?…(will) a single popular cultural landmark remain in Montclair if the drive-in is destroyed?¨

The end of an era.

In April, the city was supposed to begin public hearings on the Mission Boulevard and Ramona Avenue Business Park project. Sadly the community was unable to persuade the property owner and city leaders to save the Mission Tiki Drive-in. The closest theater owned by DeAnza Land and Leisure is the Van Buren in Riverside, Southbay in San Diego, and The Redwood in Utah. These trips are hardly financially feasible for middle-class Montclair families. 

The destruction of Mission Tiki begs the question: In an increasingly digital world devoid of human contact (Uber Eats, Netflix, online school, etc). Are we trading prospective generations’ human companionship and experiences for instantaneous gratification? How long before the rest of our childhood memories become eradicated by corporations?