It’s a summer ritual for the nation’s car culture since the 1930s: catching a flick at the drive-in movie theater. The Sacramento area’s landscape used to be filled with the giant-screen presence of several of these outdoor venues, including the Starlite, 49er, Skyview and El Rancho, which allowed generations to experience watching a new movie on a warm summer night with friends. Now, only West Wind Sacramento 6 Drive-In survives in the Capital Region as a timeless reminder to those days gone by.
Opening in 1973 just off Bradshaw Road and Highway 50, West Wind, a family-owned business operated by Syufy Enterprises, just finished major parking lot and building renovations as its 46th summer kicks off. The drive-in can hold about 1,500 vehicles spread across its six newly paved and lined lots. The all-digital technology used at West Wind means those clunky window speakers many associate with the drive-ins of their youth are now a relic of the past, replaced by an FM radio signal.
Syufy Enterprises has committed exclusively to drive-ins and dominates the industry in the West, operating six locations in California, Nevada and Arizona. Each facility is the only drive-in in its market, says Pia Nepomuceno, Syufy’s director of marketing. “It’s a classic piece of Americana,” Nepomuceno says. “Everyone should go at least once every summer.”
When West Wind faced possible closure in 2004 in the face of a proposed shopping center at the site, movie-goer Chuck Arana thought he’d organize friends to enjoy the drive-in experience of his high school years one last time. The shopping center for a variety of reasons didn’t happen, but Arana still coordinates weekly Tuesday movie nights through a Facebook group that draws from 20 to 100 friends of all ages each week. A recent screening of “The Secret Life of Pets 2” attracted about 50 on a night when temperatures hit 104 degrees during the day.
Arana says the movies are inexpensive and he’s seen friends and their families grow up at the drive-in. But the main reason he keeps returning? “Nostalgia,” he says.