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 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?