The newly renovated Mission Marquee Plaza, former home of the historic Mission Drive-in theater on Roosevelt Avenue in the Southside, was hopping late Saturday afternoon and into the evening at its inaugural event.
Families lounged on lawn chairs, couples cuddled on the grass, and the occasional hipster danced – incongruously Grateful Dead-style – to the sounds of Bombasta Barrio Big Band as night fell on the Plaza.
Food trucks in the parking lot, including one in a renovated school bus, sold light fare to participants, and a hummingbird or two hovers over the hot pink and yellow plantings around the Plaza’s perimeter.
The free event, Palatas y Poesía, or Popsicles and Poetry, was put on by the Department for Culture & Creative Development (“DCCD”) along with Gemini Ink. The city billed it as “a family event filled with fun, food, music and poetry games,” with an open mic, kids’ activities and paletas for everyone.
Participants included Councilwoman Rebecca J. Viagran, City Council District 3, Gemini Ink’s Executive Director Sheila Black, Emcee Anthony M. Flores, a.k.a. Anthony the Poet, Poet Laureate Laurie Ann Guerrero, and Bombasta Barrio Big Band.
The Mission Marquee Plaza has been a work in progress for years now. The $2.3 million project began in February of 2012, and was recently completed – although construction signs dotting the grounds and a particularly chaotic, restricted roadway entrance showed that work still remains.
The former Mission Drive-In opened in 1948. The asphalt pavement where cars parked for movie-watching has been seeded over with grass, and other improvements are numerous. New amenities that now include a 1,700-square-foot stage, a new parking lot, and new LED lighting to showcase the marquee, replacing the dated, neon-tubed lighting.
Nicha’s Comida Mexicana restaurant, open late, is located kitty-corner across the street, and the Mission Branch Library is right next door, so parking is convenient. Mission San José, for which the Plaza and library are named, is located nearby.
The Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC, which has charted the course of drive-in theaters, notes that the first drive-in in America was opened in 1933, when movies were $0.25 per car – about the same amount of tax on a giant bucket of popcorn now. By the time they peaked, in 1958, there were more than 4,000 in the U.S. The former Mission Drive-In’s age places it right in the middle of the drive-in craze, and after the advent of the “in-car speaker,” which made automotive movie-watching much more enjoyable.
Poet Laureate Laurie Ann Guerrero, herself a child of the Southside, shared a heartfelt, moving poem around the theme of “things I learned from my city.”
“As I’m reading,” she said, “think about the things you’ve learned, the people who taught you something – or the buildings, or the places.” Upon inspiration, she wanted listeners to share their thoughts with her on her Facebook page or her Twitter feed, under the hashtag #whatilearnedfrommycity.
Guerrero is also a visiting writer at Our Lady of the Lake University.
A few sample verses:
“This is what I learned from Miss Rosie’s Café. My mother can take her grandchildren to the place where my grandmother took us, and we can eat the same hot tortillas, relleno for you, mais for me; and in this community, we do not exist without each other.”
“This is what I learned from my mother-in-law…that the greatest things require great patience: embroidery, love, carne asada.”
“This is what I learned from my mayor and the legacy of his family: Chicana poets, activists, have children that make change. I depend on this every day.”
“This is what I learned from Anthony the Poet. We will always carry the burden of our ancestors. Some of the greatest, most committed souls in our community do work that is unrecognized. Let me say your name again, Anthony the Poet.”
And finally, the closing verse: “This is what I learned from poetry: I’m still learning.”
As evening fell, Bombasta Barrio Big Band, fronted by Roberto Livar, took the stage and doled out fast-paced, horn-centric Latin funk and salsa. Texas Music magazine calls Bombasta “one of the best bands in Texas,” and the crowd listened appreciatively, though few got up and danced.
As engaging as the various performances were, the renovated Mission Marquee Plaza was inescapably another star of the show.
Beautiful in broad daylight, with its freshly-painted mural colorful against a tan background, it’s equally beautiful as night falls, when its lights come on and sketch outlines on the mural itself, as well as spell out “theater” in red down the edifice’s side.
Small white lights strung across the Plaza’s parking lot add additional sparkle, and the library’s decorative wrought-iron fencing and intriguing doorways add to its appeal.
There’s a lot of captivating beauty in these spaces, once you get inside the Plaza.
But parched earth, sparse grass and treacherous traffic right outside the Plaza shows a different face that may need addressing in order to complete the picture.
Plans are to make the Mission Marquee a community centerpiece, with a “Ballet Latino” performance on June 21, a concert performance (group to be announced) on July 5, and family movies planned for the evenings of August 9, September 6 and September 20. Keep tabs on upcoming events through DCCD's Facebook page SA Hearts.
*Featured/top image: Night scene with theater mural outlined in LED lights at the Mission Marquee Plaza grand opening June 7, 2014. Photo by Lily Casura.