Saturday, September 17, 2011

El Monte Theaters

Tumbleweed Theater


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.


  1. My foggy memory is that admission was 25 and 50 cents c. 1960. I lost track of time one night and had to run to Tyler to catch the last bus. Cops saw me running and held me as the bus went past. They drove me halfway home to the Rio Hondo bridge on Garvey. Curfew.

    I lived on Loma, still El Monte, and went to the Starlite Drive-In on Rosemead on occasion since it was closer.

  2. I went to Rio Vista for elementary school junior high I went to Gidley and then Arroyo High school. My mother and father worked 35 years for the big Ball glass company till it closed down. My mom still lives off Arden and the neighborhood changed alot demographically. All our old neighbors for many years have moved out replaced by asians. I see alot less gangmembers and graffiti which is good. But I found out some shocking news that scared me. Turns out El Monte has the 3rd worst air quality in the whole United States! Also found out that underneath Legg Lake the military has Nuclear Missles stashed there. Please don't believe me. Research for yourself and prove me wrong I dare you

  3. I went to Arroyo to. When we first came to Ca. in 1952, you couldn't see the mountains at all because of the smog. In later years it disappeared somewhat. Sad to hear it's gotten worse again.

  4. It hasn't gotten worse. Did you forget smog alert days? I don't know where you got your information Bud Smoker but it is not true Bakersfield-Delano area has the worst and El Monte is not even on the radar.

    And nothing is under the lake its near the tennis courts. Wasn't a secret but then nobody talked about it much. California is considered a militarily sensitive state that is why they interned the Japanese during world war II they didn't want them to have access.

  5. I grew up right off Peck rd in El Monte, so we have fond memories of those years. If you drive down Peck rd to monrovia you have a beautiful view of both palm trees and snow capped mountains, I left and live back east, and nothing compares to the beauty out there.

  6. Hello, I am currently teaching at Payne Elementary and we will be celebrating our 80th year. Unfortunately nobody knows how are school was named or whom it was named after. Any information you might have would surely be appreciated. Willard F Payne Elementary on Mountain View and Garvey in El Mont, Ca