El Rancho Drive-In

1505 Almaden Road,
San Jose, CA 95125

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El Rancho mural by Don Clever just prior to demolition

The El Rancho Drive-In was located at the corner of W. Alma Avenue and what is now Almaden Expressway in San Jose. It was opened in 1950. The outstanding element of decor here was the back side of the screen, which faced the intersection of W. Alma Avenue and Vine Street. It had a huge depiction of a cowboy on a horse with a lasso on an earth-toned background, all outlined in glowing white neon to give a backlit effect. There was a covered ramp seating area which had 163 Heywood-Wakefield chairs that were covered with Lumite upholstery fabric.

The El Rancho Drive-In was closed in 1985 replaced by condos in the 1980’s. This theatre thrived for years just a few blocks away from the Spartan Drive-In which was located at South 1st Street and Alma Avenue. The Spartan Drive-In disappeared around the same time as the El Rancho Drive-In and has been replaced by an office complex.

Contributed by Ralph P

Recent comments (view all 26 comments)

trainman on June 19, 2011 at 10:58 am

Thanks f18shack I live in Dunsmuir Ca and have found two people that lived in San Jose during it’s existance and they remember the cowboy mural as kids and were excited to see it again….have a good one

jparedes3 on June 20, 2011 at 11:19 am

Thanks Rivest266! Love the aerial pdf!

bbrown1 on March 14, 2012 at 6:57 pm

There is also a photo of the El Rancho on the cover of BOXOFFICE 7/15/50,and the issue spotlights all the new drive in’s being built in 1950

jparedes3 on March 15, 2012 at 8:40 am

Is there a link to BOXOFFICE 7/15/50; haven’t located it [yet]; thanks!

bbrown1 on March 18, 2012 at 1:55 pm

BOXOFFICE now has most of their back issues on line. Just go to their website, and look for archives.

lillokeno on March 24, 2012 at 12:15 pm

Remember it well..Boxed Pop Corn and sold tickets for the owner at that time. Paul R Catalana Also booked the Beatles and other artists of the time.. Last movie I seen there was “Play Misty for Me”

I then went on to the Tropicaire Twin View Drive In in the early 1960’s

jparedes3 on March 27, 2012 at 11:45 am

Lillokeno: where was the Tropicaire: on Alum Rock Ave?

mgsurber on August 7, 2015 at 5:50 pm

I was born in the downtown SJ Hospital in 1963. I recall my parents taking me & my sister several times to the Tropicaire Drive-In back in the day. I recall I got to wear my pajamas (those that enclosed the legs are feet). The Tropicaire was located at the intersection of Alum Rock Ave & (what is now) Checkers Drive.

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We also visited the El Rancho Drive-In. I recall being overwhelmed by the immense depiction of the Cowboy on the bucking Bronco.

CRPavone on August 10, 2015 at 9:03 am

Best kids area of the big 4 (the others being The San Jose, The Spartan, and The Tropicaire). The El Rancho had real rides and the Southern Pacific Railroad mainline ran right alongside the property. Pre1959 SP ran steam locomotives and I would watch their white plumes blow skywards as they raced passed. That was better than the movie. As a teen – a cardboard snackbar pizza and a trunkload of friends or steaming up the windows with Cindy.. all like is was yesterday.

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