TeePee Gets Renovated, May Reopen

Drive-in screen framed by shrubbery
The old TeePee screen was still intact, though surrounded by fast-growing plant life, when I took this photo in May 2019.

The venerable TeePee Drive-In, just west of Sapulpa OK, has been purchased by a group headed by a local entrepreneur. Although it’s uncertain when or whether it will reopen, tractors and excavators have already cleared the overgrown brush from the viewing field, and why would you do something like that if you weren’t planning on showing movies?

I didn’t want to bury the lede, but if you’ve noticed that Carload has been quiet lately, it’s been because I’ve had my head down researching my next book, the expanded second edition of Drive-Ins of Route 66. It’ll have more photos, more drive-ins, more stories, and now it’ll have a note about the TeePee, which will have reopened (I’m guessing) when the book comes out around August 2021. (While they last, you can still buy the soon-to-be-rare first edition, signed by me, on eBay.)

The Sapulpa Times reported that the Kante Group, backed by Joni Rogers-Kante, closed on the TeePee property last week. As shown by the photos in that article, heavy machinery got right to work cleaning out a few year’s worth of nature’s continuing attempts to reclaim the site. The article quoted “unnamed sources” who said that they expect the TeePee to be operating again this summer.

Left unreported was how TeePee visitors would access the drive-in. It sits on Ozark Trail Road, which is so old that it predates US Highway 66. As I saw when I visited in 2019, the adjacent Rock Creek Bridge on former Route 66 is closed, so cars from Sapulpa would have to drive three miles up Dewey Avenue, then double back another three and a half miles along the narrow, twisting, historic Ozark Trail. A nearby VFW Hall has a parking lot with entrances on both Dewey and Ozark Trail; maybe the TeePee could use that as an access road short cut?

Here’s hoping that the Kante Group can get the TeePee up and running again, especially if they can beat the deadline to get included in my next book.

Admiral Twin hosts cat videos

Spaced-out image from the Philbrook Museum of Art web site

On Thursday night, Sept. 17, Tulsa’s Philbrook Museum of Art will hold its annual Internet Cat Video Festival. Instead of showing the videos on the Philbrook’s lawn, they’ve moved the festival to a place we care about, the Admiral Twin Drive-In.

The Tulsa World reported that the Internet Cat Video Festival was co-created by Philbrook Executive Director Scott Stulen when he with the Walker Arts Center of Minneapolis. The Philbrook event page described it as a “notorious offline celebration of online cats, (with) the best cat videos the internet has to offer. First time ever at a drive-in!”

I like cat videos and I love drive-ins. This sounds like the best of both. If you’re in the neighborhood, you really should check it out!

A Late Discovery: The El-Co Drive-In, Shattuck OK

A crane lifts a drive-in screen into place during construction

Photo from the El-Co Drive-In’s Facebook page

When I built my database of active drive-ins in the summer of 2016, I relied on Google for about 90% of my finds. There was also a magazine list and a few odds and ends. I thought I had it pretty well covered, but I was proven wrong twice. Once was when a colleague passed along several Canadian drive-ins I’d missed. The other was when I happened to see a mention in passing of the El-Co Drive-In Theatre in Shattuck OK.

I dug into it a little, and on Google Maps I could see a typical drive-in viewing arc north of town. Next I found the El-Co’s web site and notified Google of this place it had overlooked. A few days later, I used the Google-verified info to add the El-Co to my database.

Trouble was, this correction didn’t happen until the middle of 2017, and my Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey had already finished virtually driving through Oklahoma. So let me correct that omission with the type of profile you might have read for any of my virtual stops.

This is the second El-Co to have shown movies in Shattuck, in Ellis County. The first was south of town, owned by Garland Wilson. From the info in my reference books, it looks like that tiny, 140-car El-Co opened around 1954 and stayed active only until the mid-1970s. Cinema Treasures wrote that the original wooden screen burned down around 1963. “A new theatre was built of concrete blocks, which operated until at least 1975. It was toppled in a wind storm.” Historic Aerials still showed the viewing field in a 1995 photo, but it had been replaced by buildings by 2003.

What I know about the second El-Co comes almost exclusively from a 2011 article in the Woodward News. It said that after it had “been in the works for around a year”, the new drive-in opened on Thanksgiving weekend that year. “Owners of the drive-in, Jason Swanson and Lance Schultz, both of whom grew up in Shattuck, built the theatre to provide the community with entertainment.” Swanson and Schultz had formed J&L Oilfield Services there in 2002 and had been board members of the Shattuck National Bank. You can see what they look like in their YouTube video.

One of the buildings on the site of the old El-Co is marked as J&L Services on Google Maps; I don’t know if that had anything to do with the new drive-in. Despite a November Grand Opening in 2011, its 2017 season was quite short – just May 26 to August 5. And that’s about all I know, except that this little place did a great job of staying under Google’s radar for several years.

My choice of Restaurant in Shattuck would be Gustos Italian Grill & Pizza, which serves a ribeye steak that looks like it would fit well on my plate.

According to Google, Shattuck is in the middle of a Hotel desert, with the closest decent accommodations about 28 miles northeast in Woodward. There’s a Hampton Inn there, but the Comfort Inn is less expensive and has a higher ranking on TripAdvisor.

And for my Only In, I’d point to the Shattuck Windmill Museum, which has over 50 vintage windmills on display outside, plus an example of a dugout sod house.