Looking Back: El Rancho Drive-In Theater on Almaden and Alma

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El Rancho sign and pine trees photo


Of the various San Jose landmarks of the 1960s and 1970s, one of the most impressive to me was the huge mural that stood on the corner of Almaden Avenue and Alma Avenue.  How many times I looked out at it through the window of our 1964 Nova station wagon I’ll never know, but I was always in awe of it.  And yet, it never would have occurred to me that I might one day wish I’d taken a picture of it.  It would always be there, right?


The mural was created by local muralist Don Clever, who painted it on the back of the huge El Rancho Drive-In movie screen.  The drive-in was located at 1505 Almaden Road, with the screen standing at an angle on the southwest corner of Almaden and Alma Streets. The El Rancho opened in 1950. Created by Paul Catalana (who later brought the Beatles to Candlestick Park), the drive-in featured a game room and kiddie rides.  The drive-in closed in the 1980s, giving way to condominiums.  A reminder remains however, in the form of a nearby liquor store; El Rancho Liquors/Taqueria proudly displays its name "El Rancho" in the same script as the theater used (see photo).  The mural stood on the corner approximately where the pine trees stand on the right side of the accompanying photograph.  See a photo of the El Rancho Drive-In's Mural here



Further California Room Research:


Hi - what year did that mural

Hi - what year did that mural come down? I feel like I remember seeing it in the 80s, but I was just a little kid then so memory could be faulty.

Tough Question

The last listing that I find for the El Rancho Drive-In is in the 1980 phone directory, though it appears that the property ownership remained constant through 1986.  It's not clear if the theater was still operating during that period.  There is no listing for the address in 1987 and in 1989 the address no longer appears at all (suggesting new address(es) given for new construction).  So it's hard to tell from these resources when the mural actually came down, but it's appears likely that it was standing well into the 1980s.