Groundbreaking held for new Mearle’s Drive-In & Theater

It was old home week as about 200 people gathered on the corner of South Mooney Boulevard and Ave 264 in Visalia to attend the official ground breaking for the revival of a Visalia icon – a new and improved Mearle’s Drive-in and Theater.

The current location is close to the original Mooney Drive-in Theater that showed its farewell movies, Grease and Viva Las Vegas, on September 9, 2006.

The former Mearle’s also closed in 2006. It is now the Habit Burger Grill across from the College of the Sequoias.

The permitting process is about 90% done but Rollin George, one of the developers,  wanted to do the groundbreaking a little early to honor his dad — Johnny George — for his 88th birthday. When the project is done Rollin is going to hang a bronze plaque commemorating the date and his father.

Four generations of the George family were in attendance, along with Johnny George’s wife of 69 years.

“She is my secret weapon,” Johnny George said of his wife.

Johnny said the new Mearle’s is going to be better than the one everyone knew.

“We are listening to the people, the designers and the developers,” he said. He added that the new Mearle’s will “set the standard for the best food, best service and best family environment around.”


 “It’s about nostalgia and the community”

Bringing back Mearle’s is not about cashing in, Johnny said — it’s about community.

“It’s about having fun, giving back to the community and making Visalia a better place,” he said. “Everyone was out here today because of nostalgia, and our goal for bringing back Mearle’s is to bring back something that used to here and that people enjoyed and remembered.”

The plan is to provide a family friendly environment where families can have a meal, preferably under $10, and watch a movie on the big screen, Rollin said.

“We don’t plan on charging for the movie,” said Rollin.

Customers will get a code to access the audio of the movie on their radio.


“We are car people”

“We are going to make Visalia the car capital of California,” said Johnny George.

Johnny said they have the people, talent, and space to put on several car events a year on the lot where Mearle’s is being built.

An office on the second floor is going to be dedicated to just coordinating the many car shows the George family plans on hosting.

“We are going to be a hub for car enthusiast, classic cars, low riders or Harleys,” said Rollin.


When’s the grand opening?

Customers and former employees from when Mearle’s was called Tad’s, and then Neilsen’s, were in attendance. One 96 year old former dishwasher who worked at Tad’s watched approvingly.

Johnny George said that they have the old menu from Tad’s, but that everyone has different memories of Mearle’s, “so we are blending them all together.”

Rollin said that he intends for the location to open in the summer of 2025, but couldn’t give a specific date when the public would be able to saddle up to the counter and have Mearle’s famous chilli burger and milkshake.

One of the hold ups is dealing with Visalia’s sign ordinance. He said you can have a light-up sign but nothing moving, so the point of contention is the moving arrow that rotates from the top of the sign by a neon milkshake to the bottom.

The city council can vote in favor of a onetime waiver, and according to the City of Visalia’s website, two city council seats are up for election in 2024. If Visalians want the original neon sign with the moving arrow, they’ll need to either start recruiting potential candidates or encourage the sitting members to vote for the waiver.

Several local dignitaries were there to support Mearle’s. Assembly member Devon Mathis sent a representative and Tulare County Supervisor Amy Shuklian thanked the George family for bringing back a piece of history to Visalia.

Johnny expressed during the ground breaking ceremony how good Visalia had been to his family and Shuklian responded saying, “the George family has been very good to Visalia.”

13 thoughts on “Groundbreaking held for new Mearle’s Drive-In & Theater

(Commenter ID is a unique per-article, per-person commenter identifier. If multiple names have the same Commenter ID, it is likely they are the same person. For more information, click here.)

  1. keep up the nostalgic look with real neon! I remember the old Mearle’s as I went to COS from 1975-77, save the neon sign!

  2. While it’s leepfrog development it holds a special place in Visalians hearts and the city should let them have the sign they want.

  3. I think this is awesome !!!! I love that they are bringing back Merle’s with a drive in movie to see it will be a hit

  4. Everybody wants to go back in time and I confess I am one of them. I love nostalgia wistfully remembering better times and days. Unfortunately reality isn’t as pleasing. There are so many new restaurants being built around that area so competition for people’s money will be heavy. The free outdoor movie is a neat customer grabber but free for how long and what types of movies will be shown? Oldies? New Releases? It’s more expensive to operate a restaurant in today’s world and in maintaining the high overhead costs and securing high enough profit margins to justify staying in business it makes the price when going to any restaurant or fast-food establishment more expensive these days. I personally think the Movie Drive-In Theater brings more value and is more needed to the surrounding communities.

  5. I have just Heard about Mearl’s Drive in After 50 years graduated from Redwood high school the old girl it’s coming back. Remembering our cars and our girlfriend “ and most of all the french fries ” haha

  6. I grew up in Visalia and I remember Mearles hamburgers. They were delicious. I would love for you to bring them back. If you could bring back the sign that would be so awesome. We used to love sitting in our cars and have them bring our food to our car. I am so happy they are bringing our beloved Mearles back. It’s the best thing that has happened to Visalia. Thank you so much. I can’t wait.

  7. This is going to be very awesome to have in our town. Hopefully it brings more families together for a great time. Going back to some great memories. Let’s do this. Cool

  8. I’m so pleased finally a delicous hamburgers and a movie drive inn…Yay Visalia about time…

  9. I was stationed at NAS LEMOORE from 77-81.

    Any time we drove out to Visalia, it was to Merle’s. I’ve always had fond memories of the place with its burgers, shakes, sign and vintage appeal. Just happened to be looking at Googlemaps in the area and looked for the old drive-in and found this news.

Use your voice

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *