Since I posted a video of a dead drive-in a few days ago, you deserve to see a gorgeous living drive-in video. This one was posted by KSNF (Joplin MO’s News Leader) on YouTube earlier this year when Avengers: Endgame sold out the 66 Drive-In Theatre in Carthage earlier in the evening.
The 66 is a beautiful drive-in by day, with manicured grass in its front yard framing its retro sign along old Route 66. It was the perfect choice for the cover photo of my new book, Drive-Ins of Route 66. I’m sad to say that when I took that picture, my schedule didn’t permit me to stay for the show that night, and this video gives me a glimpse of what I missed. The glowing sign was not a surprise, but I hadn’t noticed the clever Sold Out sign, and that ticket booth looks amazing.
Another regret is how little room I gave it in my book; I expect to expand its entry in my next edition. As I wrote, the 66 opened on the west side of Carthage on Sept. 22, 1949, about a month after the Sunset opened on the east side of town. The Sunset closed in the early 1970s, but the 66 persists despite a 12-year hiccup. As I wrote:
“Here is your icon of drive-in theaters, Route 66, and more. William Bradfield opened the 66 and ran it for over a decade before selling to the Dickinson chain, which closed it in 1985. Mark and Dixie Goodman bought the place and turned it into an auto parts junkyard. In 1997, they added projection equipment and reopened the drive-in. Twenty years later, the Goodmans sold the 66 to its former security guard Nathan McDonald and his family. Today the drive-in’s grounds and buildings look as nice as brand new, but with a healthy retro flavor.”
Despite a fair amount of digging and some help from Carthage historians, I still haven’t found any real photos of the Sunset. That’s not a problem for the 66. Every picture from this year looks as good as all of its many past photos, and now I know that some of its videos are better yet.
If you’ve been waiting for more drive-in videos taken by drone, here you go. Unlike most of those that I’ve posted on Carload, this one, posted to YouTube last year, is of a dead drive-in, the Holiday of Springfield MO. (And don’t adjust your speakers, this video is silent.)
As I wrote in my new book Drive-Ins of Route 66, the Holiday opened late, on August 13, 1970. Commonwealth Theatres planned for the Holiday to have two screens, one for 490 cars and the second for 509. That didn’t happen, possibly for reasons related to construction delays. The Holiday closed in 1981, then was revived briefly by another operator during 1994-96.
Now over 20 years later, you can see that the sign and fields are still pretty well preserved. That section closest to the road is just begging to be converted to a second viewing field, and the original ramps are still visible in the grass. Since the decades have suggested that there’s no better, more urgent use for the site, wouldn’t it be nice if someone used it to bring drive-in entertainment back to the good people of Springfield?
Last year about this time, the story of Wichita KS’s Starlite Drive-In Theatre was a sad one indeed. Its recently acquired owner had shut down the Starlite and was reportedly on the verge of selling the place for warehouse development.
Remarkably, the Starlite recovered. Local leaders saw the importance of the city’s last drive-in and came up with a plan that saved it. So this week’s report by KSNW, Wichita’s News Leader, is more of a quiet celebration of the end of a successful season where the only drama was on the big screen.
The news story has some nice video of the Starlite, which is always welcome here, and it includes a few interview clips with current owner Blake Smith. He said that attendance is up a bit, and that it took him a little while to learn how to execute some of the fundamentals of running the drive-in.
Souvenir cups were a big hit this season at the Starlite, and Smith said he’s considering selling season passes for 2020. I would suggest that those cups are a no-brainer; if they’re refillable, they sit around as a constant advertisement and reminder to come back for more movies. Season passes are trickier. I hope that Smith gets good advice on those.
I also hope that this note finishes the saga of near-closure and civic redemption for the Starlite, which should settle back down as just another successful drive-in. Meanwhile, enjoy the video of how it looks today.