July 15, 2020

Pandemic Amusements: At the Drive-In, On a Former Cornfield

It didn't matter that Paramount Drive-In isn't as exciting as Mission Tiki Drive-In.

Located in the City of Paramount, home of the Zamboni, it's a lot closer to where I live in the LA area. And it seemed less crowded, at least upon my early arrival.

Besides, I don't have to choose right now. I want to hit them all. Even the ones in San Diego, San Luis Obispo, and Barstow. And Vegas, too.

I'd been kicking myself for not going to any drive-in movies for the first 9 years I lived in California—but in the case of Paramount, I get a little bit of a break. Movie screenings had ceased between 1992 to 2014 (though the swap meet operated continuously since 1955) and the theatre was closed for the first two months of the pandemic shutdown.

Opened in 1947, Paramount Drive-In Theatres was originally known as the Roadium—a brand that has recently been revived in Torrance, with drive-in movies and an open-air market.

Back then, that area was "Clearwater Township"—named after the seasonal lake that would form when fed by nearby artesian wells—but was rechristened "Paramount" in 1948. It was all dairy farms and chicken coops until the 1970s.

Amazingly, the entire site—built upon an old cornfield—remained intact enough for the drive-in to reopen in 2014, with digital projection and FM transmission for sound.

It's been a two-screener since the 1970s—and at least since its grand reopening six years ago, one screen is devoted to family-friendly programming (with each main attraction showing twice for an early and late screening).

This new venture is the brainchild of Glenn Bianchi of Bianchi Theatres—son of Joseph Bianchi, a WWII penicillin peddler who came out west to become the original proprietor of Roadium. Born in Compton, the younger Bianchi used to work in the snack bar as a teenager and eventually got promoted to manager.

The concessions stand still serves popcorn and hot dogs—but instead of malted milkshakes and Cherry Cokes, there are agua frescas and churros.

While the twin theatre's 45 acres should accommodate 800 cars, the pandemic requires keeping a space open between every parked vehicle. And their lightsaber-wielding ushers/security guards enforce the policy, thankfully.

But even with the capacity restricted, Paramount Drive-In has reported selling "double" the number of tickets it would any other year—any other year not in a pandemic, that is.

For some, it's just something to do. It almost doesn't matter what the movie is. And that's a good thing, considering how Hollywood has hit the brakes on its big summer releases.

But the little guys—the indies, the low-budget horror flicks—are thriving at the drive-in. And lucky for me, I like to watch a good scary movie in the dark while sipping soda nervously through a straw.

After years of feeling like I had to go to the movies by myself if I wanted to go to the movies at all, now I prefer solo adventures at the cinema. I don't want to leave my car or congregate with anyone else.

It's a perfect night out, with minimal risk of contamination and maximum entertainment.

Related Posts:
A Tropical Escape In a Time of Adversity: Mission Tiki Drive-In

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