Central Valley

The show's over at Ceres' drive-in movie theater

CERES — The era of the drive-in theater is over, and it's not coming back. At least not to Ceres.

Owners of the Ceres Theatre & Flea Market -- the region's last drive-in -- have confirmed that the show will not go on.

They've put the property up for sale, 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 car load. In 2007, the price was $12 per vehicle, but the theater didn't open last summer as expected.

Two former patrons were disappointed that the drive-in would not reopen this year.

Atwater resident Megan Brudzinski, 19, said her parents started taking her to the Ceres drive-in when she was 8 or 9. They went several times every year until Brudzinski was in her early teens.

"It was just a fun time," she said. "We'd get KFC before we'd go and have dinner and a movie. It was pretty cool. It was a family thing. I'm disappointed that it's closing. There's not many drive-ins around any more."

Charlie Leffingwell, 56, said he and his wife, Jan, spotted the drive-in within about a week after moving here several years ago from the Bay Area. The two went to the Ceres drive-in a few times each season.

"I thought it was neat when I moved to Modesto that the one here was still open," he said. "It's kind of a nostalgic thing. But we enjoyed being outside. It's a whole different genre than going to an indoor theater where it's crowded."

The property owners had tried to convince city officials to let them operate year-round to boost business. But concerns over air pollution caused by car heaters and idling motors nixed that idea.

In November the site held its final flea market. New uses for the land are being sought.

The property, at 1651 E. Whitmore Ave., is next to industrial parks and it has 400 feet of frontage parallel to Highway 99. That makes it a perfect place for new industries, according to Michael Hays, who is marketing the land for Sperry Van Ness-Rollf Commercial Real Estate.

The site has four entrance and exit points, which was important back in the days when as many as 600 cars poured out after movies ended.

During their heyday, more than 5,000 drive-in theaters lit up the dark across the nation. Fewer than 500 remain nationwide, according to DriveInTheater.com.

That Web site lists thousands of defunct theaters, including Modesto's McHenry Drive-In and Prescott Drive-In, Turlock's Lucky Drive-In and Merced's Starlite Drive-In.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine contributed to this story.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jsbranti@modbee.com or 578-2196.