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.
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.
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.
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