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Santee Drive-In Is Second Outdoor Cinema In San Diego To Reopen

The Santee Drive-In has been closed since March 10 because of the coronavirus pandemic. It reopens tonight with two double features.
Beth Accomando
The Santee Drive-In has been closed since March 10 because of the coronavirus pandemic. It reopens tonight with two double features.

Twin screen drive-in will show 'Trolls World Tour' and 'The Invisible Man' starting Friday

Tonight the Santee Drive-In reopens for business on the heels of the South Bay Drive-In reopening last week.

In 62-years of operation, the Santee Drive-In has only had to close down once and that was when fires were burning nearby. But on March 10 it was forced to shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Santee Drive-In Gets Permission To Reopen
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Owner Michael Long kept emphasizing to officials that drive-ins are perfectly designed for social distancing.

"That's what I spent all week telling anybody who would listen in at County Public Health," Long said. "And then I told the same thing to the state public health officials. Drive-ins were open all over the state. It was part of the governor's either late phase one or early phase two edicts that that got passed along [that said] drive-ins and drive-in events are okay to do."

On Wednesday, Long finally got official permission to reopen the drive-in that his dad built back in 1958.

"He built drive-ins up and down California," Long said. "We added the second screen here in '72 or '73 and we've operated it since it was open. He operated it until the early 80s. My first job [here], I was the snack bar employee, popped popcorn, poured Cokes, made hamburgers and hot dogs."

He was 16 years old then. When the twin Santee Drive-In reopens tonight things will be a little different. The snack bar will be closed, the bathrooms will remain open and the drive-in will operate at 50 percent occupancy.

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"So when you park, there should be an empty space on either side of you," Long explained. "We do masks and everything. We're inside cleaning up everything right now, trying to get everything prepped and ready. The only point of contact that they'll have when they come is to pay at the box office and my box-office person will have a mask and gloves. Just hand your money out and he hands you your change back. You don't even have to roll the window all the way there."

But if you are concerned, you might want to bring exact change, the theater does not take credit cards at the ticket booth. Adults (anyone 13 or older) are $9, juniors (ages 5 to 12 years) with a parent are $4 and children under 4 are free.

Starting Friday night at 8:30 p.m., "Trolls World Tour" will play with "Onward" and "The Invisible Man" with "The Hunt." Each movie will only play once per night for the first week.

The Santee Drive-In before the coronavirus pandemic forced it to close on March 10. It will reopen on May 15.
Santee Drive-In
The Santee Drive-In before the coronavirus pandemic forced it to close on March 10. It will reopen on May 15.

And if you haven’t been to the drive-in recently some things have changed, like you don’t have those speakers you’d hang from the window.

"They had become a very expensive repair problem and very expensive to replace all the time," Long said. "Our movies use the latest technology in Hi-Resolution Audio through your car stereo system. I broadcast in 5.1-stereo and so you can basically have as much sound as you want. It just has really made a big difference. That and the new digital projectors, everything is so much easier to deal with now. They just send a little hard drive out now."

Drive-ins have always had a nostalgic appeal but with the pandemic keeping indoor cinemas closed, for the time being, drive-ins may be enjoying something of a renaissance these days.

Santee Drive-In Is Second Outdoor Cinema In San Diego To Reopen
Listen to this story by Beth Accomando.