I am so glad that so many of our readers have been enjoying our ride through El Monte’s past. This time I will explore the movie theaters in El Monte beginning with the Tumbleweed Theater. The Tumbleweed Theater was located on the corner of Garvey and Mountain View Road possibly where “El Pollo Loco” is located today. The theater was complete in 1939. The architect was S. Charles Lee who was a prominent movie theater architect. Mr. Lee is credited with designing over 400 theaters in California and Mexico. In 1938 the Tumbleweed owner James Edwards II wanted to build a theater in El Monte but, due to his lack of money Mr. Lee offered a barn to Mr. Edwards as a theater. The total cost to build the Tumbleweed was $2000. The outside looked like a barn but, the inside looked like an airplane hangar. The walls were adorned with paintings of the American west. There were paintings of an American Indian riding a pony on one wall with cactus to accent the background and on the other wall was another painting of a burro harnessed to a Mexican cart. The ceiling of the theater had open trusses and exposed cross beams. The lights were made to look like wagon wheels. Outside was a windmill which had the movie marquee. Outside next to the theater there was a small train that the children would ride. In 1947 the Puente Theater sued James Edward II and the Tumbleweed of unfair practice. The lawsuit said that the Tumbleweed signed a deal with Columbia, RKO, Monogram, Republic, FOX and Paramount pictures to an exclusive right to show first run movies 30 days before the Puente Theater could. The judge’s decision was according to the contracts and the law that there was no unfair practice. The cost of the movies was 30 cents in the 1950’s. Wow what a deal and that was for one newsreel and one cartoon and two movies.
El Monte Drive-In
El Monte also had a drive-in theater it was located at 9700 Lower Azusa and Ellis Lane. There is a Home Depot store there now. The El Monte Drive-In opened in 1948 and closed around 1999. It was owned and operated by Pacific Theaters. The back of the screen wall faced Lower Azusa and had a painting of woman that looked like Carmen Maranda with her famous fruit filled hat and beautifully vibrant colored dress. In the 1950’s the drive-in would show mostly B-movies along with newsreels and my favorite, cartoons. The drive-in had a capacity of 791 parking spaces. We all remember the awful speakers you would place on your window. They were heavy and sounded terrible. The cool thing about going to the drive-in was the food. The El Monte Drive-In boasted the best chili dogs in town. The other favorite food would be the pizzas. There was a playground beneath the movie screen where the kid could swing or slide all night long then the kids would return to the car jump in the back seat and fall asleep while mom and dad enjoyed John Wayne fighting the bad guys. The El Monte Drive-In was in a movie or two the best was “Attack of the 50 foot woman starring Daryl Hannah you should rent sometime it really isn’t that bad. In 1980 Pacific Theaters sold the drive-in. From then on the new owners show Spanish speaking movies. Sadly in 1999 the drive-in closed for good and yet another part of our childhood in El Monte was now gone but, our memories still live on.