Route 66 icon Tee Pee to reopen

Aerial drone view of the Tee Pee Drive-In viewing field with the screen in the background.
The extra-clean, newborn Tee Pee. Screen capture of a KJRH news video on YouTube

Joni Rogers-Kante grew up going to the Tee-Pee Drive-In just west of Sapulpa OK. The drive-in, sometimes spelled “Teepee,” lived a good long life from 1950 into the 1980s, then went dark off and on until its final shows in 1999.

Meanwhile, Rogers-Kante founded SeneGence USA. A few years ago, she got the idea of bringing Sapulpa’s drive-in back to life, and after many months of work, it’s ready to hold its grand opening on April 15. There’s a nice video about those plans on YouTube; too bad I couldn’t embed it for you here.

Technically, the Tee Pee sort of reopened last October, according to a story in the Tulsa World. It wasn’t quite finished, but it had enough together to show a couple of Halloween-themed films.

The screen was always in decent shape, though it looks better than ever now. The real trick to reopening the Tee Pee, in my opinion, was finding a way to overcome its traffic issue. Just a couple of years ago, there were two ways to reach the drive-in. You could loop around to the west and return east over a couple of twisty, slow miles of the original Route 66, now Ozark Trail. Or you could find a way across the 99-year-old Rock Creek Bridge, which recently reopened as a one-lane, 4-ton-rated bottleneck. (A third path might be to cut through the back of the VFW Hall’s parking lot.)

The Tee Pee’s owners neated sliced through that Gordian knot. They got a new road built to cover the one block from the current 66 to Ozark Trail, curling around the back of the viewing field. I’m a little chagrined that I never considered that elegant solution.

If you want to read more about the Tee Pee’s long history, pick up a copy of my book, Drive-Ins of Route 66, preferably the second edition, which had more photos and was correct more often. Just be sure to cross out the line that says “Closed: 1999”.

Video: Admiral Twin fixes screen

Tulsa OK’s Admiral Twin Drive-In has reopened for the season after fixing minor damage to its west screen. During the off-season, winds had blown out a few screen panels, so owner Blake Smith needed to make the first repair to the structure since it was rebuilt following a fire in September 2010.

All of this news and video came to us through KOTV, Tulsa’s News Leader, which ran a nice segment on the Admiral a couple of days before it reopened.

As I wrote in last year’s Drive-Ins of Route 66, Blake’s father, Richard D. Smith, bought the Admiral Twin around 1987 from General Cinema Corp., run at the time by Richard A. Smith. Blake officially took over in 2000.

I’ll admit that there’s not much news in the Admiral Twin’s new season, but it’s just great to get another video showing what the venerable drive-in looks like these days. Enjoy!

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.