Charles Phoenix's Slide of the Week: Compton Drive-In Theater, 1979

Charles Phoenix’s Slide of the Week: Compton Drive-In Theater, 1979


About ten or eleven years ago curiosity got the best of me and I decided that I just had to see the house that my mother grew up in in Compton. My grandparents moved out of it when I was five and I hadn’t seen it since. So I looked up the address in the Thomas Guide and headed over there. I turned the corner and there it was, just as I had pictured only much smaller. As I sat in my idling car staring at it a rush of long forgotten childhood memories reran in my mind. I was spellbound. But not nearly as spellbound as when I looked up and at the end of the street saw a gigantic framed mural of Viking ships sailing on a choppy sea, generously labeled with the handwritten name of the city. It was the Compton Drive-in towering over the entire neighborhood. Shocking though it may seem I didn’t even have the faintest childhood recollection of it. As soon as I got home I did a little research and found out that it was built in 1949 by the largest local drive-in chain, Pacific Drive-in Theaters.

We didn’t invent the drive-in theater here in Southern California but we certainly did perfect it. The first drive-in theater opened in New Jersey in 1934, the second a year later at Pico and Westwood in Los Angeles. During the heyday there were more outdoor screens in Southern California than anywhere else. In the mid-50s just as drive-ins began getting a reputation as teenage passion pits, some started holding Sunday morning drive-in church services to help preserve a moral balance. As the congregations on wheels developed so did the slogans. “Worship as you are in the family car” and “Honk to say amen.” The drive-in theater helped Southern Californians find religion.

When I asked my mother “why didn’t you tell me you grew up down the street from a drive-in” she replied with the classic “You didn’t ask!” For the next couple of weeks as I blabbed and bragged all over town about my discovery I decided I needed to go back and take a closer look. So once again I turned up the old street and there was the house but no drive-in. My dream turned into a nightmare. It was gone, yes, gone. A closer inspection revealed the screen tower had been bulldozed and left lying there on its side all bruised and broken waiting to be taken to the scrap heap.

Everything is temporary.

Here’s to the COMPTON DRIVE-IN and YOU!

Charles Phoenix

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“Disneyland” Tour of Downtown Los Angeles
Sunday April 2, 2006
The similarities between Downtown Los Angeles and Disneyland are staggering! I will be your tour guide as we explore “Main Street USA”, “Adventureland”, “Fantasyland”, “Frontierland” and “Tomorrowland” in the heart and soul of the city by foot and vintage school bus. Info & Tickets