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The following article was published in the Visalia Times-Delta on August 17th.
There are only 23 days left to catch a double-feature at the Mooney Drive-In Theatre before the lights go out for good.
The drive-in will show its last feature on Sept. 7.
But a “grand closing” party is planned for Sept. 9 that promises to take moviegoers back to the 1950s and the glory days of drive-in theaters.
“I think the theater needs to be closed with dignity,” property owner Johnny George said. “We want as many people as possible to share in the festivities."
Here’s what’s on the schedule:
3 p.m. Car show sponsored by the Visalia Vapor Trailers.
BBQ tri-tip dinner prepared by New Hope Church
Music by The Blue Onyx
Musical performance by Tulare County Sheriff Bill Wittman.
Movies start at dusk, showing “Grease” starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John and “Viva Las Vegas” starring Elvis Presley.
10:30 p.m. Fireworks finale.
George, 71, bought the land the theater occupies and is turning it into an office complex.
He said he expects as many as 3,000 people to attend the grand closing, and he’s trying to make it as easy as possible by rolling prices back to $5 a carload. He said the theater can hold about 600 cars between the two screens, and if the place fills up, people can walk-up with a lawn chair and pay 99 cents to watch the final show.
Overflow parking will be available at the old Lumberjack and Grocery Outlet parking lots.
While there may be quite a buzz surrounding the final shows, attendance at the theater has been steadily declining for some time, theater manager Jerry Mann said.
“It has fallen off since the Galaxy Theatres opened in Tulare, and it never really came back like it should,” Mann said. “People get all teary-eyed but still they don’t show up.”
Mann, 68, said he was born and raised in Tulare, and he remembers going to the drive-in theater when it first opened.
Trouble is, he doesn’t know if that was 1946 or 1947.
Neither does George, even though he lived next door to it for years.
Nor does local historian Terry Ommen, who is researching the theater’s history.
“All I know for sure is that it was the Motor Inn Theatre when it first opened,” he said, “and sometime in the mid-60s it changed to the Mooney Theatre.”
Ommen also wonders if the regular ticket price was a per-person rate and occasionally switched to a car-load rate based on what was playing.
“It had to be per person regularly, otherwise why would anyone go in inside the trunk?” he said.
Ommen thinks the trunk was the most coveted spot in the car.
“I think half the population of Visalia entered that theater in the trunk,” Ommen said.
But George thinks it was another location.
“I think half the population of Visalia was conceived in that theater,” he said.