|City/Town: • Sapulpa
|Location Class: • Theater
|Built: • 1949 | Abandoned: • 2000
|Status: • Under Renovation
|Photojournalist: • David Linde • Eric Price
The Tee Pee Drive-In dates back to 1949 when it was built along historic Route 66 by Video Theaters. Tee Pee opened on May 5, 1950, and had a capacity for over 400 cars and was a pride and joy for Sapulpa Oklahoma. Unlike most other drive-ins that just had dirt pathways to follow the Tee Pee had a product called Dustrol, a type of paving, applied to 6.5 acres of the driving area.
Throughout the 1950s the theatre created many great experiences for thousands and thousands of people showing movies such as The Modern Miracle of Birth, Paris Playboys, Walking My Baby Back Home, The Ten Commandments, Love Me Madly!, The Hunters and From Hell to Texas. And come 1954 a new manager was brought in as well. Robert L. Getter a twenty-eight-year-old from Vinita took the place of managing partner Jimmy Zartaludes who had been manager since its opening.
A few years later the theater and the rest of Sapulpa experienced the wrath of mother nature. On May 5, 1960, an F5 tornado rolled through the quiet town causing millions in damage and injuring over eighty people. The Tee Pee Drive-in received a heavy-hitting and was nearly destroyed. But with lots of work going into repairs a month later the theatre was back open and ready for business. But that wasn’t the end of bad happenings, the following year towards the end of the season the drive-in experienced two break-ins only a week apart. On August 31st it was reported that food and two speakers were stolen from the concession stand for a total loss of $75. And just a week later on October 8th a door was forced open on the concession stand and things were stolen but no numerical value of the items lost was given. And yet this still wasn’t the end of misfortune, in 1962 speakers were stolen again from the drive-in this time totaling $35 in loss.
In August 1966 a fire swept through the concession stand of the Tee Pee Drive-In. The fire destroyed the inside of the concession stand but didn’t damage the projector and contents. The food and money were removed nightly so the fire didn’t affect that. Firefighters fought the blaze for an hour and twenty minutes and while no cause was ever determined for the fire, firefighters had noted the door to the building had been broken into so it could be assumed as arson.
During the 1970s and ’80s, drive-ins across the nation died out as the rise of indoor movie theatres grew. In 1982 Video Theaters, the owner of the Tee Pee Drive-In closed the theater and many of its others. The property sat empty for almost eighteen months with not a car in its lot. Until Jerry and Joan Malone came along, “We thought the area could support a drive-in, I still think it can.” They purchased the property from Video Theaters and reopened on March 18, 1983, after a period of repairs and updates.
After just six years of the Malones owning the drive-in, they had decided to sell the property. Karen Edwards jumped at the opportunity saying owning a drive-in has been a dream of hers. Her father served as the projectionist for the drive-in, the same projector that has shown hundreds of movies since 1949. The projectionist keeps track of the threading of the film from the large reels onto the machine. Most movies have four to five of these long rolls of film, imagine if you loaded the wrong one! There were 325 speakers with a radio sound system for patrons to enjoy from their car. At the time of the Edwards, the capacity was 325 cars and was one of less than 300 drive-ins left in America.
Again ownership was transferred and another go at opening the drive-in came in 1997 but didn’t succeed after just two seasons. The property sat with ‘For Sale’ on the marquee for over a decade deteriorating further and further until the 2020 pandemic. Because of the call for social distancing and a pandemic ravaging the economy and businesses America saw a boom in drive-ins again. A market that had mostly died out was experiencing a surge in interest. This caused a handful of abandoned drive-ins to be revitalized again, Tee Pee Drive-In is one of those. In 2021 the Kante Group a local group purchased the property and has started renovations to the property. The Kante Group is making strives to make the area an events venue for concerts, movies, dining and more including 12 Airbnb Spartan trailers on the property.
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