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Oceanside Drive-In Is Thriving While Others Fail

August 24, 1987|MIKE GRANBERRY | Times Staff Writer

OCEANSIDE — Sometimes late at night, after all the movies have ended and most of the cars have driven out, Jerry Beauchamp has to wake people up. He peers into the window of an El Camino or a flatbed truck and shouts. The reactions he gets are varied and emotional and often memorable--much like the movies themselves.

"People," he said with a sigh. "Some are angry, some are scared, some are profusely apologetic. I've seen other things too."

Occasionally, Beauchamp disturbs people in various states of romantic repose. Their reactions are also varied, emotional and memorable but usually in the context of one main feeling:

Embarrassment.

Beauchamp, 32, just shrugged and laughed. He's laughing a lot these days and rarely feels embarrassed. Box-office sales at the Valley 4 Drive-In Theatre in Oceanside are hardly a laughing matter, unless it's a giggle mixed with a jump for joy.

While drive-in theaters across America are flopping faster than Madonna's movies, the Valley 4--which Beauchamp manages--is thriving. On a recent $4-a-car night, the four-screen lot played host to what Beauchamp figured were between 800 and 1,200 cars.

Camp Pendleton helps a lot. Much of the clientele settling in for "RoboCop" and "Full Metal Jacket" were Marines and their families. High school kids thrilled to be dating were lined up, car by Japanese car, for a beach movie bringing back Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello.

The night was overcast and misty enough to cloud eyeglasses but no one seemed to mind--least of all Beauchamp.

"We're the only drive-in in North County," he said. "The nearest one is the Harbor in National City. We pull in people for miles around. You can bring a whole family in here, and it don't matter if you talk, and a carload of folks can pile in for $4 (on Wednesday and Thursday nights). In my book, that's some kind of entertainment bonanza."

Television Has Helped

It hasn't been overlooked. For some strange reason, Beauchamp said "the video revolution" has actually increased business.

"I suppose people are waking up to movies again," he said.

And to more traditional forms of seeing them. With almost every parking space filled, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters spread out over blankets or reclined in lawn chairs or hunkered down in the backs of pickup trucks. Buckets which had held Kentucky Fried Chicken and used Burger King wrappers were tossed aside, mingling with the gravel of a parking lot serenaded by excited voices--the squeals and cries of children, the laughter of teen-agers.

Some people paid attention; many didn't. Given the crowd and the festive atmosphere, it looked like a cross between Woodstock and Camp Pendleton.

The smoky snack bar was jammed with talkative people craving fresh-popped popcorn, candy bars, even bottles of formula heated for babies.

"As fascists go, 'RoboCop' is a pretty good one," one man said to another.

"Oh, who cares," the other one said. "At least we can smoke. Isn't that why we came?"

Proletariat on Parade

"This is bizarre," one college-age woman said to her date. "It's fun to see how the proletariat lives."

The proletariat seemed to be having a good time, which indicated a change.

Several drive-ins in San Diego County have folded within the past decade--the Frontier near the Sports Arena, the Campus near San Diego State University and a fleet of others dating back even farther. Most were one-screen operations that suffocated under modern-day fiscal realities.

Joseph Pietraforte, general manager of DeAnza Land and Leisure, which owns the South Bay Drive-In in San Diego, explained why.

"The cost of converting drive-ins to multiple screens, versus the cost of the property itself, caused many to die," he said. "You could make a lot more money selling to an eager developer who wanted the acreage these things sit on than you could by installing multiple screens."

But multiple screens--which Pietraforte said "saved" many indoor theaters--are in his view having the same effect on drive-ins.

"There's a drive-in revival going on," he said from DeAnza's Los Angeles headquarters. "These things are not nearly as risky as they were a few years back. They're starting to come back, and some, like the Valley 4, are doing fantastically well."

Well enough, Beauchamp said, that on a recent Thursday night, he had a staff of 18, not counting himself. They included popcorn poppers and ticket sellers, as well as a large, beefy security detail.

On the Job Since 1967

One of his employees, Jan Warner, minds the ticket booth and has since July, 1967, when the Valley was a one-screen theater. She remembers the place long before it hosted swap meets thrice weekly (another way of butting heads with fiscal realities) and well before it was smack in the middle of a highly developed area.

"Back then, we were out in the country," Warner said. "I bet developers would love to get their hands on this property. I hope they don't, though. Obviously, I kind of like working here.

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