April 9: Phoenix Drive In, Houston MO

It’s Day 99 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Deep in the Ozark Mountains, it took an hour and a half to drive from the 21 Drive In northeast of Van Buren MO to the Phoenix Drive In in Houston MO.

According to Cinema Treasures, the Phoenix opened in 1951 as the Sunset Drive-In. It’s been the only drive-in Houston MO has ever known, but it closed in 1998 for three years. Renamed the Phoenix, the drive-in is now owned by the same folks who own the adjacent one-screen indoor theater.

According to a 2011 article in the Houston Herald, Jaretta Lankford owned the theater complex for most of the 90s. In the middle of the decade, she had to replace the outdoor screen after a windstorm knocked down the original. Lankford also upgraded from car speakers to FM sound. “I went there when I was in high school and it was a very entertaining place to be,” she said. “The drive-in is such a great form of entertainment. It’s really more of an art form and I hope it stays alive.”

That same 2011 article said that Samantha Thomas was the current owner of the Phoenix and ran both screens with parents Richard and Hillary Thomas and sister Noel. Three of those four also had day jobs. “We certainly enjoy it,” Richard said. “With all that it takes to run this place, we wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t.”

The drive-in opens for the season this Friday, which left me five days out of luck. At least I could always duck in to watch a movie at the indoor Phoenix Theater.

Miles Today / Total:  86 / 10866 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 47

Nearby Restaurant: When it’s time to load up on tender meat, it’s time to head to TQs House of BBQ. I could have ordered a steak or a large salad or somesuch, but I went straight for the ribs with BBQ beans and green beans. It might not be the healthiest choice every day, but a feast like that makes a great treat.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Once again, I was in a town bereft of chain hotels, but with the Lazy L Motel around, I didn’t need them. My nicely remodeled room was small, but with a modern TV and wifi. With a Casey’s General Store next door, I had an easy place to find cheap coffee and enough breakfast to continue the odyssey for another day.

Only in Houston: Just up the road in Licking, (a fine name for a town!), the presence of the Rawlins sporting goods factory inspired folks there to decorate the water tower to look like a baseball. The factory is long gone, but according to Roadside America, the baseball water tower is hanging in there.

Next stop: Sunset Drive-In Theatre, Aurora MO.