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Reality Check : Next L.A. / A look at issues, people and ideas helping to shape the emerging metropolis. : Drive-Ins Are Still Out

October 10, 1995|NONA YATES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The flickering images stopped dancing in 1993 on the huge outdoor screen at Culver City's Studio Drive-In, the last of the old drive-ins on the Westside.

Long gone are other screens that loomed over the intersection of Olympic and Bundy and the corner of Beverly and Fairfax. But as recently as May, plans were bubbling along to revive the Studio as a drive-in of the future, using high-tech enhancements.

To lure moviegoers back to the drive-in, the new Sunset Screens promised a sharper picture and a richer soundtrack transmitted through the car's FM radio. The films would be a mixture of old and new, with cartoons before the main show.

Today, however, cars speed by the weed-choked lot at Sepulveda and Jefferson boulevards. Plans to reopen the drive-in have been shelved, according to the Culver City Redevelopment Agency.

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Only 859 drive-ins remain open in the country, down from a peak of over 4,000 in 1958. Drive-ins "have closed because of land values, rather than a lack of consumer interest," said Jim Kozak of the National Assn. of Theater Owners.

When most outdoor theaters were built in the 1940s and 50s, they were on large parcels of land on the outskirts of town. As cities expanded, drive-ins occupied land that was becoming increasingly valuable.

"Suddenly, the owners found themselves with a large chunk of land in a desirable spot and were offered huge amounts of money," Kozak said. "Many succumbed to the pressure of developers who wanted the land and were willing to pay a fortune for it."

The 11-acre site in Culver City has long been coveted for a new residential project. In the San Fernando Valley, another landmark drive-in may soon give way to construction crews.

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The Wal-Mart discount chain recently announced it hopes to build its first Los Angeles store on land where the Van Nuys Drive-In is located.

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