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

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.

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I would love to share with you a picture of a matchbook cover from the El Rancho to add to this lovely write up. email if you are interested

Ralph How do I sign up for your blog?

In the late 1970's my Aunt and Uncle lived as caretakers in the Orchard (owned by the LoBue family) that was behind the Drive In. My Uncle was an old mechanic, and as legend has it, was a founding member of the Hells Angels. He set up a dirt track in the orchards there, and my brother, and uncles and I would race around in the orchards for hours on end. Most evenings were spent trying to find the best place to watch the latest movie through or over the fence!

Wasent their like some urban legened that the elrancho drivein was haunted by a farmer who did live wherethe drivein was I se em to remember this on tv years ago

I hadn't heard that one.

My mom has lived in the condos there since the mid 90's.

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