225 Hammer Drive,
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This Drive-in opened in the 1940’s. It featured a reinforced concrete screen tower with the theatre’s name painted on the back, facing North Main Street across what was originally a vast empty field, but which later was developed. The theatre’s presence was heralded along North Main with a freestanding two-sided sign and reader board. Atop this was a tall metal spire which featured a stack of neon rings. The neon signage read “Starlite” above the reader board, and “Drive-In Theatre” below. This sign tower had an exact twin at the Starlite Drive-in in Merced, now also long gone.
With the advent of wide screen movies, reinforced extensions were added to the right and left edges of the screen tower.
By the 1970s, the partnership of Hank Garcia and James Andrade operated the Starlite Drive-In, using it for first run Hollywood product, while their operation of the Fox Theatre downtown catered mostly to Spanish-speaking audiences.
The Starlite Drive-In closed in the 1980’s and was subsequently demolished. The sign and reader board out on North Main Street remained for a brief period, with its last message, “Bye” in the middle. It its last years, only the neon of the Starlite name (in white tubing) lit up, aside from the reader boards.
The site of the drive-in is now occupied by Starlight Elementary School. It was decided to spell the name differently from the name of the theatre, for fear of new generations of children learning to spell “light” as “lite”. The idea was advanced at the time of the Starlite’s closing of perhaps saving the screen tower and painting a mural on it, but this never got beyond the talking stage.
Some of the pine trees which originally bordered the drive-in still act as a border for the school.
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