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The Cactus Drive-In may soon be reborn in Tucson



The destruction of the longstanding DeAnza Drive-In in April of last year left yet another hole in the Tucson landscape, a hole frequently filled by new-car lots, used-car lots and Taco Bells.

But fear not, nostalgia buffs: A new drive-in is still in the works, with a recent update bringing the best news yet.

Negotiations are brewing between Charlie Spillar—the driving force behind the preservation of the drive-in—and a guy who actually wants a drive-in on his property.

"It was a dream of his for many years," Spillar said in an e-mail. Although the mystery man's location and identity has not yet been disclosed, we like him. We like him a lot.

The theater that's primed to open, the Cactus Drive-In (, is not new, per se. It will feature DeAnza's former screens and the original moniker of the drive-in near 22nd Street and Alvernon Way, when it opened on March 13, 1949.

"The property owner is very supportive of a drive-in on his property and is very happy to work with us," Spillar wrote in a Facebook message through the Cactus Drive-In Theater Project page. "Unfortunately, there are many obstacles to overcome as yet because of zoning, neighborhood acceptance, etc., but the outlook at this time does look very positive."

Break out the popcorn. Kudos to the property owner, and even more kudos to Spillar, who is as tenacious as a pit bull on a rubber chicken when it comes to preserving Tucson's kitschy history.

Spillar is the same man who poured hours into helping with the revamp of the 1920s-era fantasyland Valley of the Moon. He also found homes for the massive statues at Magic Carpet Golf when the parcel was purchased by a car dealership.

Spillar watched as the mondo monkey statue was again erected earlier this month. "A giant crane was lifting the monkey up as it was concreted in place.

It is not fully restored as yet, but 'looking good' for a 40-plus-year-old monkey."

The drive-in prospect is looking equally as good. Although sticky-floored multiplexes tried their best to push drive-ins out of existence across America, the good ol' drive-in will never lose its charm.

Nowhere else can you neck in the back of an SUV—even when your two kids are in the front screaming about needing the bathroom, as was the case with one couple at DeAnza.

Nowhere else can you watch a movie while boldly munching your own cold pizza from home rather than being stuck with neon-orange nachos or candy that goes for $8 per box.

Nowhere else can you get someone to willingly hop in a car trunk.

And we didn't even talk about the power of a movie seen on a behemoth outdoor screen nestled neatly beneath the stars. Films are sweeter, creepier and/or even more terrifying when you're watching them at a drive-in.

I continue to harbor an intense fear of sharks, a longstanding side effect of seeing Jaws at the drive-in. Nothing is scarier than the massive mouth of a 60-foot great white barreling down at you in the middle of the windshield in the middle of the night. It's an image I shall never forget.

It helped, of course, that I was about 5 at the time, and the shark appeared a bit more realistic to me than it did during later viewings. It probably also helped that my dad made shark-under-the-bed references for a month after seeing the flick. I still refuse to sleep with my arms dangling off the bed.

But the true impact, I'm convinced, happened because the movie was at the drive-in—something that may be on its way back to Tucson.

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