The Ceres drive-in, a Northern San Joaquin Valley landmark dating back to the 1940s, was the scene of a large fire Monday night, according to the Ceres Police Department.
The fire was reported about 8 p.m. in a two-story structure at the Ceres Theatre and Flea Market, 1651 E. Whitmore Ave. The flames could be seen by passing motorists along nearby Highway 99 and were also visible from downtown Modesto.
The building that was still burning late Monday housed the projection room, arcade and concessions area for the drive-in, which ceased operations more than a year ago.
There were two fires in the structure, which was being battled by units from the Ceres, Modesto and Stanislaus Consolidated fire departments. An ambulance was standing by, dispatchers said, but no injuries had been reported.
Firefighters were struggling to gain access to parts of the building. The fire spread to an attic, which made fighting the blaze hazardous.
Police and fire officials the fire was suspicious because it started in two locations in the building, which no longer has electrical service.
There were reports of thefts of copper wiring and other items from the site as well as homeless people camping there.
The owners put the property up for sale last year, asking $2.5 million for the 14-acre "industrial" site.
The drive-in had entertained families since 1948. It offered double features during warm-weather months, charging by the carload. In 2007, the price was $12 per vehicle, but the theater didn't open in the summer of 2008 as expected.
The flea market reopened in 2009 after the property owners leased to new operators, who had been running an open-air market on the weekends.
The site has four entrance and exits, which was important back in the days when as many as 600 cars poured out after movies ended.
For photos and videos from the scene, go to www.modbee.com.