111921 Hi-Way zone change

The Santa Maria Planning Commission approved a zoning change from commercial to residential for the historic Hi-Way Drive-In Movie Theater property, making way for a proposed affordable housing development.

In a turn of events many Santa Maria residents have dreaded, the iconic Hi-Way Drive-In Theater along Santa Maria Way has announced its final showing before the theater's permanent closure will be held Thursday.

The theater, which opened in 1961 and has been under the ownership of the Gran family since 1978, will be showing the film "Spider-Man: No Way Home" at 7 p.m. Thursday.

A sentimental message recorded on the theater's phone line on Wednesday shared the details of the final showings as well as gratitude for the years of support from the community.

"It is with great sadness that we announce that today, Wednesday, and Thursday are our last two days of operation," the message states. "Thank you to everyone who has patronized the Hi-Way over the 40-plus years the Gran family has had it, all our suppliers, and all our wonderful employees who have helped make the Hi-Way Drive-In what it is today."

Closure of the theater has been in the works since the property was first listed for sale in 2019, with owners identifying a loss in revenue over the years that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We gave it our all but due to the current economic climate and the ever-changing film industry, our business as a drive-in theater is unfortunately no longer viable," the theater website states. 

Central Coast housing nonprofit People's Self-Help Housing finalized their purchase of the $3.3 million site after the City Council's approval in December of land use and zoning changes that will make way for the development of 49 low-income, single-family homes.

While citizens and city officials alike have passionately advocated for the theater's preservation, the Gran family has made it clear they are ready for the next chapter and support the planned project from People's Self-Help Housing.

The Hi-Way Drive-In is the last of its kind in Santa Maria after the closure of the Park Aire Drive-In in 1995, with others also closing in Lompoc and Santa Barbara in recent years.

The Sunset Drive-in in San Luis Obispo and West Wind Drive-in and Public Market in Goleta are the last drive-in theaters still in operation on the Central Coast. Statewide, just 15 of the theaters remain.

The Hi-Way Drive-In is located at 3170 Santa Maria Way. General admission is $11 with $5 tickets for children ages 3 to 11 and adults age 55 and older.

Gates for the showing open at 6:15 p.m. and close at 8 p.m. Speakers have been removed from the poles in the parking lot, so all attendees must have a working radio to turn to 92.1 FM for sound.

Noting the popularity of "Spider-Man: No Way Home" in the box office, theater representatives said it's "only fitting to end with a bang."

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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