1949 Westchester began to develop at leaps and bounds as new homes sprung up and young families flocked to the area to snatch them up. As the population grew, so did the need to entertain the townsfolk, and Westchester boasted not one, but four movie theaters.
The La Tierja Theatre (1949) opened that year, and just a few months later, so did the Paradise Theatre (1950), which gave locals a great many choices for seeing movies, in addition to the Loyola Theatre (1946). There were two or three theaters in nearby Inglewood as well.
Moviegoers were thrilled that year to see movies such as; Twelve O’clock High, All The Kings Men, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and I Was a Male War Bride.
Every theatre showed double features, so a night at the movies was a five or six hour event. It was common to see gentlemen in suits and ties and the ladies dressed to the nines.
But if dressing up for a night on the town didn’t suit you or your family, or Junior was teething and you didn’t want to leave him with the sitter, you could throw the kids in the station wagon; pajamas and slippers optional, and head to the Centinela Drive-In. Located at 5700 Centinela, in Westchester 90045, the drive-in was a favorite with generations of locals; both young and old. When the kids were too wound up to sit in the car, they could go play in the sand box and swing on the swings.
And who can forget the wonderful hot buttered popcorn and ice cold Cokes.
The drive-in’s peak popularity came in the late 1950s and early 1960s, particularly in rural areas, with some 4,000 drive-ins spreading across the United States. Among its advantages was the fact that a family with a baby could take care of their child while watching a movie, while teenagers with access to autos found drive-ins ideal for dates. Revenue is more limited than regular theaters since showings can only begin at twilight. There were abortive attempts to create suitable conditions for daylight viewing such as large tent structures, but nothing viable was developed.
Over time, the economics of real estate made the large property areas increasingly expensive for drive-ins to operate successfully. Land became far too valuable for businesses such as drive-ins, which in areas that experienced winter snows were summer-only. Widespread adoption of daylight saving time subtracted an hour from outdoor evening viewing time. These changes and the advent of color televisions, VCRs and video rentals led to a sharp decline in the drive-in popularity. Drive-ins were subject to the whim of nature as inclement weather often caused cancellations. They eventually lapsed into a quasi-novelty status with the remaining handful catering to a generally nostalgic audience, though many drive-ins continue to successfully operate in some areas.
Today, a multi-screen theatre complex; Rave-18, is operated at the Howard Hughes Center, and our new neighbors at Playa Vista will be opening their own theatre in 2013.