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Warehouses, industry to replace Montclair’s Mission Tiki Drive-In

I’d kind of lost track of the plans to replace the beloved Mission Tiki Drive-In with two warehouses and six industrial buildings. Those plans were last in our news pages a year ago, with approval by city officials expected that spring.

You probably lost track of the project too. Seems like everyone did.

The period for public review and comment ended in February 2022 with 71 comments, all but two opposed. But in mid-December, when the City Council finally had a public hearing on the project, nobody showed up to object.

“I was caught off-guard they’re not here tonight,” Councilmember Ben Lopez admitted that night. “I really thought they were going to be. I hope that’s a good sign their concerns were put to bed.”

RELATED: Mission Tiki Drive-In in Montclair closes for good after 67 years

I doubt it. Six days before Christmas, they were putting in rush orders to Amazon, not reading meeting agendas.

Opened since 1956, before Montclair incorporated as a city, the drive-in theater closed for good on Sunday.

De Anza Land and Leisure, the drive-in’s owner and operator, had sold the property in 2019 for $34.4 million to Oakmont Industrial Group. Oakmont let the Mission Tiki keep showing movies rent-free until its own plans were ready to go.

And what a gift that was, because the drive-in managed to ride a wave of interest during the pandemic as people flocked there to enjoy themselves and say goodbye. Or say hello, in the case of drive-in rookies.

Not everyone understood the urgency. One poor soul on my Facebook page commented Tuesday: “Nooo I was supposed to go before it closed the last time and then reopened! And I thought I would have more time before video killed the cinema.”

I replied sternly: “You had three years!”

Meanwhile, on the Daily Bulletin’s Facebook page, another poor soul replied: “Wish I had known about this place.”

You had 67 years!

A portion of the empty Mission Tiki Drive-In is seen Jan. 23. After more than 66 years in Montclair, the theater closed the previous day to make way for an industrial development. (Photo by David Allen, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Oakmont notified De Anza in early January that its plans had been approved and that the drive-in would need to be out by the end of the month, De Anza’s CEO told me Monday.

It turns out the project was approved not last spring but in recent weeks. The Planning Commission gave the OK on Nov. 28, on a 5-0 vote, and the City Council on Dec. 19, also by 5-0.

I watched video of the Dec. 19 meeting online on Wednesday. The only speakers were three local representatives of trade unions who backed the project for the construction jobs.

In his staff report, Mike Diaz, Montclair’s community development director, said the 27-acre property at Mission Boulevard and Ramona Avenue is among the largest in Montclair and had long been the subject of inquiries and informal discussions about alternative uses.

For many years a neighborhood shopping center seemed likely. But that part of the city is primarily industrial, and the site’s distance from freeways made it less appealing for retail even before e-commerce began taking over, Diaz observed.

Housing wasn’t a good fit either, Diaz told the council, because of the surrounding industrial uses and a freight railroad tracks to the immediate north — which won’t be news to Mission Tiki fans. Anyone who ever saw a movie there had it interrupted by train noise at least once.

Industry made the most sense for the site, Diaz told the council, and a proposal could have been worse.

“A developer could have come in and said, ‘I want to construct one large building of 600,000 square feet,’” Mayor John Dutrey said at the meeting. “It probably would have attracted a lot more trucks and trailers.”

“We had a number of bidders that came in that wanted to do just that,” Diaz replied. “We purposely didn’t want that. Luckily we didn’t get any of those bidders.”

Instead, the north half of the site will have two warehouses, of 110,000 and 187,000 square feet, which as Dutrey noted are far smaller than what’s been built in Ontario, Fontana, Rialto and points east, where many are above 1 million square feet.

A rendering of the Mission and Ramona Business Park that will replace the Mission Tiki Drive-In in Montclair, looking southeast from State Street. The drive-in theater, which opened in 1956, closed for good Jan. 22. (Courtesy City of Montclair)
A rendering of the Mission and Ramona Business Park that will replace the Mission Tiki Drive-In in Montclair, looking southeast from State Street. The drive-in theater, which opened in 1956, closed for good Jan. 22. (Courtesy City of Montclair)

The south half will have six buildings from 30,000 to 42,000 square feet in “a campus-like setting” that could house light manufacturing or offices, Diaz said.

The Mission and Ramona Business Park will consist of concrete tilt-up buildings with modest decorative elements. Probably too modest. I think they should add grass thatching to the rooflines and scatter a few tiki heads around the loading docks.

The previous opposition was about loss of a community gathering space and loss of a historic resource. Diaz pointed out that De Anza’s sale to Oakmont was a private business transaction and that government “does not have the authority to compel the property owner to continue the operation” as a drive-in.

Councilmember Bill Ruh, a Montclair native, said he grew up going to movies at the Mission and at Montclair’s other drive-in, the Valley. The street he grew up on, Palo Verde, was once a dirt road, and the Costco site was once a chicken ranch, Ruh said.

“Things change. Times change,” Ruh said. Of the plans, he said: “This is a positive use for our community.”

Lopez, the councilmember quoted earlier, is another Montclair native. He has childhood memories of the Mission from the 1980s.

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