Dickinson Drive-In Theatres in Johnson County

Johnson County became swept up in the drive-in movie craze when Dickinson Theatres opened the Shawnee Drive-In in 1949 and the Leawood Drive-In in 1953.

The Shawnee Drive-In was located just east of Long Street on Shawnee Mission Parkway and was the first drive-in theatre in Johnson County.  The parking lot was able to accommodate 1,000 cars at a time, and sometimes as many as 4,0000 people enjoyed a film outside under the stars on a 60 foot by 40 foot screen.  The base of the screen tower at the Shawnee Drive-In had a one-bedroom apartment and an office where the theatre manager lived and worked.

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Opening night at the Shawnee Drive-In was April 1, 1949.  The premiere film was “Two Guys From Texas” starring Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson.   Popcorn cost a dime, hot dogs were 15 cents, and a pack of cigarettes set a person back 25 cents.  The theatre promoted a family atmosphere, and kids enjoyed a playground in front of the giant movie screen.

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The overwhelming success of the Shawnee Drive-In persuaded the Dickinson Theatre company to open a second Johnson County location.  The Leawood Drive-In opened in June 1953 at 123rd and State Line Road.  The theatre cost $350,000 to construct, had enough parking spaces for 1,050 cars, and boasted of having the largest synchro screen in the world.

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There were over 4,000 drive-ins spread across the U.S. in the late 1950s.  The golden age of drive-ins lasted until the late 1970s.  As home video and cable television gained ground among consumers, the drive-in phenomenon began to fade away.  By 1976, both the Shawnee Drive-In and the Leawood Drive-In had shown their last films.  Today there are an estimated 350 drive-ins operating across the country.

– Matt Gilligan, Johnson County Museum

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1 Comment

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One response to “Dickinson Drive-In Theatres in Johnson County

  1. I think that a tornado finally ended the Shawnee Drive Inn. By the late 1970’s, drive in’s were in decline and so when the screen was flattened by a tornado, the owners chose not to rebuild. Also the land was valuable for redevelopment.

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