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lose your flicks on route 66?

May 14, 2000|ED LEIBOWITZ

Azusa's orange groves and strawberry patches long ago surrendered to asphalt. The rivers and washes where Mayor Christina Madrid in her childhood watched tadpoles turn into frogs are now concrete storm drains. Madrid, who's serving her second mayoral term, says her San Gabriel Valley hometown faces a new threat to its collective memory every bit as dire: the possible closing of the last drive-in on Route 66 between here and Missouri should the Edwards Cinemas chain sell the property to Azusa Pacific University.

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Place the threatened loss of the Edwards' Azusa-Foothill Drive-In in the larger historical context of the city that once boasted having everything "from A to Z in the U.S.A."

Azusa never really meant that; that was a promotional campaign by the Chamber of Commerce in the '50s. When the Spaniards came through on their way to conquer and baptize the native peoples, the community of Azusa already existed. It meant "the place of the sacred waters" in the indigenous Chuillas language. Both my grandparents and great-grandparents came to Azusa at the start of the 20th century from central Mexico. Unlike other communities, Azusa had a Mexican middle class early, and Mexicans served on the City Council back in the '50s. So you have so much of the community living here so long, yet their whole sense of community is based on landmarks that are gone.

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In an age of multiplexes, is the American drive-in a sociological and fiscal impossibility?

That's only a lack of vision and a lack of understanding. In this case, because the weekend swap meet is also held there, the drive-in brings in $300,000 annually--a good chunk for our city--from admission charges and vendor license fees. We are so much into the Internet and cerebral things. We've become more thirsty to experience something. The Internet has caused us to say, "but I want to go someplace and feel something right now." We want to get immersed in experiences--like Old Town Pasadena, the Block in Orange.

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Are you fighting the development?

We've put calls into the Los Angeles Conservancy. We don't want the movie screen removed or the movies stopped. There is such a pent-up demand for historical tourism. Route 66 is the mother highway. Where can you experience it anymore? Where can you go back to that '50s and '60s "American Graffiti" feeling? The Azusa drive-in is a perfect cornerstone for creating this destination tourism.

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How long have you patronized it?

I can remember when I was a kid playing on the swing set underneath the big screen. You could play in the sand if you got there early. I remember seeing "Porgy and Bess"; it had phenomenal music!

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Any presentations you were less enamored of?

My father liked John Wayne, so we saw a lot of John Wayne and war movies. We went in the station wagon, and I'd fall asleep in the back. Especially if it was John Wayne.

Side Kicks

Christina Madrid's favorite sights along Route 66:

"The Colorado Bridge in Pasadena."

"The last of the vineyards and wineries in Rancho Cucamonga."

"Huntington Drive, where it breaks out into a wide, meandering green strip with all that wonderful vegetation."

* And her least favorite:

"The gravel pits of Irwindale."

"The freeway overpasses."

"Beyond Glendora and San Dimas, it's big-box retail after big-box retail--removed from the street, massive parking structures, half-occupied. It's really pathetic."

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