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VALLEY DRIVE-IN THEATRE, MONTCLAIR, CALIFORNIA, 1954

Valley Drive-in Theatre

The world’s largest neon mural made this the most spectacular drive in ever built in Southern California and the centerpiece of the valley it was named for.

With a beautiful blue sky, majestic mountain range and Santa Barbara Mission as a dramatic backdrop, a Native American, on the right, and a priest, on the left, witness an oxcart, with a driver and two passengers, cross a stream. The Native American has a jug at his side. The priest carries a bible in his hand. At night the early California scene was completely outlined with more than 2500 ft. of glowing neon.

The giant work of art wasn’t the monumental drive-in’s only unusual feature. A year after the grand opening in 1948, the owners who “collected” monkeys, put their primates on display in cages alongside the children’s playground. This was a novel attempt to entertain people before the movie started. They called it Monkeyland.

By the time THE END came in 1980 and the monumental screen tower was demolished to make room for an ill-fated Dodge dealer, the monkeys were long gone, the neon had all but burned out and the hot sun had faded giant painting.

This is the drive-in theater that I grew up going to. I remember the monkeys and being told not to stick my fingers in their cages. But, yes, it was the neon mural that really stands out in my memory. The priest’s bible, the only part of the scene rendered in royal blue neon, always caught my eye. I haven’t seen a blue neon bible since.

Here’s to the Valley Drive-in Theater and you!