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November 18, 2009 > History: The Union City Drive-In

History: The Union City Drive-In

By Myrla Raymundo

For 32 years, the Union City Drive-In located near Whipple Road and Interstate 880 was a familiar sight. To most residents, it was a landmark.

The Union City Drive-In was a source of pride for Union City when the curtain first rose in 1966. Its six screens were more than any other nearby theater had and its huge, red and white marquee served as a massive welcome sign to moviegoers and everyone driving by.

People remember the drive-in; when they were kids, teenagers and bringing their families. Teenagers stayed at the drive-in for hours partying from dusk to dawn watching horror movies and triple features.

Loren Pinto, a Union City native, worked at the drive-in during his high school and college years. Almost all members of the Pinto family worked at the Union City Drive-In over the past three decades. The tradition began with Lee Pinto directing traffic on the theater's opening day and ended when Lee's nephew Adam Bebee worked the snack bar on its closing day. Loren Pinto, now a music teacher at Newark Memorial High School was a minor celebrity while working at the drive-in. Karen Bebee, (Loren's sister,) Dave Pinto, and Bob Martin also worked at the drive-in doing everything from staffing the snack bar to turning away kids who tried to hide in car trunks.

The tradition carried on to the next Pinto generation. Between 1981 and 1995, Martin's children, Chris, Bob Jr. and Janine worked at the drive-in as did Janine's husband Herb, and Karen's son Adam Bebee.

Lots of memories surround the drive-in. Residents and others from neighboring cities who went to the drive-in at least every other weekend loved the family atmosphere. Kids played on the swings and went to the snack bar for candies and other snacks. This was the place to be those days. People came to the drive-in and let their kids go crazy and it was great, especially in the summertime.

In March 1998, after 32 years, the drive-in closed. The event was marked by a farewell gala billed as "The Last Picture Show," showing classics including the 1957 movie "I was a Teenage Frankenstein."

A mix of high land prices and commercialization forced the Union City Drive-In to close. Closing the Union City Drive-In was the end of an American dream, watching a movie in a car under the stars. In Union City, it is now history.

Now, travelling by Interstate 880 to Alvarado-Niles Road, the Century Theater has replaced the Union City Drive-In. It is the largest theater complex in Northern California boasting 25 movie screens, stadium seating and digital sound. The new theater is the centerpiece of Union Landing, a 104-acre shopping center that includes Lucky supermarket, plush restaurants and boutiques.

The Union City Drive-In is now just a memory, a very beautiful memory.

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