SAN ANTONIO -- It's just about ready. On Tuesday night the lights of the new Mission Drive-In Theatre mural flickered on - but just for a moment.
The old drive-in movie theater, at Roosevelt Avenue and VFW Boulevard, sits just next door to Mission San Jose. The $1.4-million city project to revamp and re-purpose the long-closed theater grounds is nearing completion.
But everything hasn't been smooth sailing for the mural restoration project. The original mural that drew crowds for a night of family entertainment, with a huge outdoor screen and small metallic speaker that clipped to your car door window, was a reflection of the times.
Restoration of the old marquee design was questioned - and then out of the question. Some said the original 1948 image featuring Mission San Jose with a man wearing a sombrero, sitting atop a burro next to another man dozing against a mission wall promoted a stereotype and was insensitive to the Hispanic community.
After local artists and activists staged a protest in front of the old south-side theater last February, the city reacted quickly.
Jimmy LeFlore, manager of Public Art San Antonio - a division of the City of San Antonio's Department for Cultural and Creative Development, said several new proposals were discussed before deciding on a more "truthful depiction of what the mission looks like today."
Click here to view more images of the Mission Drive-In Theatre project.
The city also went with new efficient LED lighting- a faux neon, LeFlore said, instead of the traditional neon-tube lighting that originally lit up the marquee.
On the grounds behind the massive sign, crews are putting the finishing touches on a staging plaza. Gary Edenburn, special projects manager for the San Antonio Development Office, said the plaza will be a slightly sloping grassy area headlined by a 30-feet-by-30 feet stage.
Edenburn said they envision outdoor movie screenings and concerts in the park.
Locals are already flocking to the Mission Public Library that sits on the same property. Mission San Jose is poised as a historic backdrop for those who gather in the library's cozy sunlit reading nocks.
And Edenburn says there is still another 9 to 10 acres of land yet to be developed on this block. He said the YMCA has shown some interest, and the city is working to get the site ready for future development.
It's an exciting time for south San Antonio. On the back side of this site, Mission County Park 2 is expanding along the San Antonio River's Mission Reach. With pictorial river-side "portals" that describe historic and restored natural features, visitors get a visual perspective of Mission San Jose…and the mission's newly resurrected neighbor, the Mission Drive-In Theatre - all connected by wide sidewalks and dedicated bike paths.
There's still a lot to do, though. Edenburn said the front landscaping of the Mission Drive-In Theatre will have to wait. He said that's because TxDOT will be tearing up the streets from Military Drive passed Southcross, including VFW Blvd. Their efforts are directed at improving street drainage, but the reconstruction will go a long way to enhancing sidewalks and roadways. That won't be completed until fall of 2014.
Until then, the new mural will stand on its own as beacon - "a gateway to the San Antonio missions," the city calls it. The Tuesday preview was just a practice run. The city will officially flip the switch on the faux-neon lights at the Mission Drive-In at end of February, but you might think now of all the possibilities.
To book an event at the Mission Drive-In Theatre plaza, call the City of San Antonio Office of Cultural Affairs at 210-207-6966.