66 Drive-In, Carthage, Missouri, USA

Americans took to the road in unprecedented numbers with the lifting of wartime rationing and travel restrictions during the Mother Road’s golden age that began in 1945. Businesses along Route 66 that had endured the lean war years now reaped their reward, while the increase in traffic was so great that it also spawned new businesses to accommodate every need of postwar travelers. Although technically an innovation of the 1930s, the drive-in theater really came of age during the postwar auto and travel boom of the late 40s and early 50s. Drive-in theaters offered millions of (pre-television) motel guests an opportunity for affordable evening entertainment without having to leave the car or wander too far from the road. The number of drive-in theaters nationwide surged from a mere 52 in 1941 to 4,500 by 1956.

The 66 Drive-In in Carthage was part of that postwar wave and today is one of a very few historically intact drive-in theaters still operating along old Route 66. It looks and feels very much as it did when it opened for business in the fading light of September 22, 1949. A striking feature of the 66 Drive-In is that it still retains its original rural setting on a nine-acre plot about three miles outside of town. Although outdoor theaters were traditionally set down in field and pasture well beyond town, most sites today have since been engulfed by suburban sprawl.

Almost all of the 66 Drive-In’s original structural elements still exist and are in operation. The 66-foot high, steel framed screen house continues its original dual role. Its front serves as a support for the movie screen, while its outward sloping back is a huge billboard announcing its original 1949 message: 66 DRIVE-IN THEATRE CARTHAGE, MO. Located below the screen is an original playground, a testament to the Baby Boom phenomenon of postwar America. The low, stucco concession stand/projection booth in the center of the theater area and the tiny five by nine foot, waved glass block ticket booth at the southeast entrance still retain their original Art Deco and Streamline Moderne styling, evoking–at least to the 1949 customer–a modern, cutting edge feel. At the theater entrance, alongside old Route 66, stands the original steel and neon sign.

Sometime after 1953, a wider model covered the original movie screen to accommodate the new Cinemascope craze. Visitors today will note the forest of speakerless speaker poles–surviving theaters have long since canned the original squawk boxes for radio frequency sound. A new support building on the eastern edge of the property is an addition that was added at the time of the 66 Drive-In renovation in the 1990s. The theater ran from 1949 to 1985. After a period of decline following the decommissioning of Route 66 and a nationwide fall in drive-in theater attendance, the 66 Drive-In was renovated and reopened on April 18, 1998. The theater was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

The 66 Drive-In is located at 17231 Old Route 66 Blvd. in Carthage (Brooklyn Heights), MO and offers first run feature films every Friday through Sunday, from April to October. The Box Office opens at 8:00pm. To find out about featured films, when the movies start, and other information, call 417-359-5959

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