San Val


San Val






This site was last updated 07/25/07

On June 16, 1938. Burbank became the home of the Largest outdoor theater in North America.  In an area that once was home to Burbank's winery and grape fields, The San Val Drive-In opened with a flourish usually given a palace like Grauman's Chinese. The San Val Drive-In had a long and glorious run until the early 1970's when the land surrounding the Burbank Airport became much more valuable. Now resting on the site are Production houses, Manufacturers, and Offices.
The history of the San Val Drive-in is fascinating in the technology that was developed at the facility. Being one of the first "Ozoners" (as Drive-ins are referred to by their fans), The San Val had a unique speaker system. During the first ten years of operation, the speakers were actually positioned in front of each car. They were immobile, the volume being controlled at the projection booth. Sometimes this worked, sometimes it did not. With the resulting complaints from neighbors as the area became more developed as a residential area, the Drive-In finally installed the individually wired speakers with volume controls that most of use baby boomers are familiar with.

The Grand Re-opening of the Drive-in was another stellar event with advertisements and promotions in all of Burbank and surrounding area. Guest celebrities would greet the gathered audience amidst a cacophony of honking horns and whistles. The San Val Drive In became immortalized in the 1949 Warner Brother's film "White Heat" where in Crime boss Cody Jarrett (essayed by James Cagney), tries to escape the police after a train robbery, Cody; his wife, Verna and mother hide out at the Drive In. This is just probably your best chance to see what the property actually looked like during it's heyday. That is if you can ignore the movie long enough to actually notice.

Later, during the 1960's The San Val started to succumb to the usual practice of block packaging. For every good studio production, the drive in had to also book several minor titles. These minor titles usually ran on the bottom half of a double bill, but most patrons were lax to view a film they had already seen just to catch the latest Troy Donahue extravaganza. Later, the San Val became devoted to the exploitation genre, with constant double bills of the latest Italian Muscleman epic, or rubber beast invasion. As the theater closed its gates for the last time, blaxploitation films were being booked regularly, as were a few of the dubbed and daffy kung fu films popular at the time.

My memories of the San Val are vague. The few times that my Sister (the only relative with transportation who would go as Mom did not drive and Dad had a general distain for the outdoor theaters) would take Mom and myself would be for the occasional family film or drama that the ladies wanted to see. I recall being told to lay down in the back along with my nieces and cover our heads as something grown up was about to transpire. So while my viewings at the theater were anything but enjoyable, the atmosphere was something else.

Being so close to the Burbank Airport, there were those moments when a plane would fly over head, literally shaking the ground as it passed. I do recall having to cover my ears as a very loud prop plane landed during one evenings viewing. What I remember most of the San Val Drive In were the number of films I did not get to see. Such wonderfully forbidden delights as 'Superfly', "What Do You Say to a Naked Lady?", and or course "Destroy All Monsters" (my Sister and Mom opted instead for 'The Love Bug' which was playing at the Pickwick Drive-In on Burbank's South Side).

Those that have been there have fond regard for the San Val, and it is in tribute to their memories that these photos are presented.