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Remembering Glenwood

Glenwood Theatre, ca. 1968. Source: JoCo Museum.

Glenwood Theatre, ca. 1968. Source: JoCo Museum.

I always felt a sense of anticipation and excitement walking through the rectangular parking lot, over the gravel-filled medians into the Glenwood movie theater. Not only was I being transported to whatever fantasy world the movie created, I was also entering a forgotten and foreign world. The Glenwood had style: It featured a fire place and an indoor fountain, like those found outside at the Plaza. A vaulted ceiling with cathedral-esque windows allowed waves of golden sunlight to fill the lobby. And best yet, the actual theater might have been the biggest single room I had ever seen. Imagine that brief moment when the green preview shot would appear as a wobbly specter as the gigantic curtains parted way to reveal the majestic screen!

Glenwood Theatre, 1966 ca. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

Glenwood Theatre, 1966 ca. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

At the tender age of five in the year 1983, when we found movie times in the newspaper and had to wait in line to get tickets to a highly-anticipated blockbuster, my parents took my brother and I to see Superman III. You didn’t see a movie at the Glenwood: You experienced it. My personal list includes: Dune (1984, yes I saw Dune at the age of 6), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), Mosquito Coast (1986), Raising Arizona (1987), Tim Burton’s Batman (1989, opening day), Independence Day (1996), Batman and Robin (1997, Yuck!), and Contact (1997). Basically, the formative years of my movie watching developed at the Glenwood Theater.

The Glenwood (lower left) at Glenwood Manor Motor Hotel. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

The Glenwood (lower left) at Glenwood Manor Motor Hotel. Source: JoCoHistory.org.

The last movie I saw at the Glenwood was Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace in the summer of 1999. There was so much excitement and I was so eager to return to my childhood years of wonder. Sadly, not only was that movie terrible (even though I saw it four times) but the theater itself closed a year later. I couldn’t help but feel as though those two events were inextricable, as if the movie gods said, “Try as you might, those halcyon days will never return. But you’ll always have the ticket stubs.”

Learn more about the Glenwood and nation-wide cinema treasures: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/1854

-Scott Stone, Johnson County Library

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Drum roll please!

In 2011 Zickos Corporation made the decision to close its doors. After more than 50 years, William Zickos, known as the father of acrylic drums and John Brazelton, President, ceased production of their acrylic drum set. Because Zickos and Brazelton valued their top quality product, they chose not to sell out to one of their competitors. They believed in their product and wanted to keep the integrity of the Zickos name.

From left to right: William Zickos, Gregg Gerson, John Brazelton, 2001 ca. Photo courtesy of gregggerson.com.

From left to right: William Zickos, Gregg Gerson, John Brazelton, 2001 ca. Photo courtesy of gregggerson.com.

In 1959 Bill Zickos worked at Toon Music in Prairie Village by day and by night he played drums for the Ed Smith Band at the New Orleans Room on Wyandotte Street. While working at Toon Music, he tutored 30-40 aspiring drummers. It was during this time Zickos had the idea of taking clear plastic sheets and molding them into a drum set. What he got was a drum that was not only innovative in style, but also produced a crisper, louder sound.

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At a time when Rock and Roll was up and coming, that louder resonating sound would prove to be very popular. One unique aspect of clear plastic drums was the way lighting illuminated through the clear acrylic creating a tapestry of color. This unique light show was very attractive to young musicians just starting out in this new rock and roll genre. When money was tight this was an advantage. One humorous point of interest was that the drummer, due to the transparency of the drums, would now be required to wear pants during a performance.

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During the early years of production Mr. Zickos’ drum students were the first employees hired to build these unique drum sets. They were also the first to own them. While traveling from show to show they would become the original Zickos drum promoters. One such student included Mike Thompson, today a local well known talent in the Kansas City area.

Mike Thompson playing on a Zickos drum set. Photo courtesy of Mike Thompson.

Mike Thompson playing on a Zickos drum set. Photo courtesy of Mike Thompson.

For several years drums gained in popularity with other local drummers. It is believed that during one of these local performances the unique style and cool, crisp sound was noticed by Ron Bushy (drummer for the popular rock group Iron Butterfly). Bushy was so impressed he purchased a set for himself.

Photo courtesy of drumarchive.com.

Photo courtesy of drumarchive.com.

This drum set would later become a focal point of a drum solo during the classic 18 minute song, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vidda.” Soon other groups would take notice and purchase Zickos innovative new drum set. Groups such as The Who, Beach Boys, Three Dog Night soon followed leading Zickos to open Zickos Corporation on 85th Street in Lenexa. Keith Moon of The Who, during an episode of Wide World In Concert: Midnight Special, played a 5 minute solo in which one of his acrylic drums was filled with water and goldfish.

-Terri Bostic, Johnson County Library

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Pulling at Merriam’s Heartstrings

KC Strings

K.C. Strings 5842 Merriam Dr, Merriam, KS 66203

In a cute, quaint part of downtown Merriam, Kansas, sits an equally cute and quaint shop called K.C. Strings Violin Shop. The shop itself is very much like a violin, adorned with warm varnished wood. K.C. Strings is a full service violin shop, which includes services for the entire violin family: viola, cello and bass. You can purchase or rent an instrument that has been constructed right there in the shop or you can have your instrument repaired or altered. While many Johnson Countians use their services, they also have clientele all over the world, from beginners to professional musicians.

PS Anton

Anton Krutz, owner of K.C. Strings

Anton Krutz and his father, Misha Krutz, opened K.C. Strings in 1992 in Merriam. They both hail from Leningrad, Russia, now Saint Petersburg. Misha played for the Kansas City Symphony for 30 years. Anton grew up in Johnson County, and after graduating from Shawnee Mission West, he went to trade school to learn the art of making violins and then went on to study restoration in New York.

KC Strings combo (2)

You can hear the passion Anton has for these instruments when he says things like, “When you have a symphonic sound of strings there is an emotion produced within people that is unrivaled by any other instrument.” Krutz is also aware that it is often the artists and musicians who history remembers. “Small towns that have artistic endeavors within them leave a legacy … the arts give meaning to humans.” This is what makes K.C. Strings a gem in Johnson County. If you are ever in downtown Merriam, you may hear the melodic sounds of someone testing out one of the instruments at K.C. Strings.

While K.C. Strings has plenty of history of its own, a fun fact we learned while talking to Anton is that the K.C. Strings building used to be a Johnson County Library. Pictures on JoCoHistory.org show the temporary headquarters of the  Library, which is now the studio section of K.C. Strings. It just goes to show there’s always another story behind each new facade.

Then & Now Library Headquarters (2)

Then & Now: Once the temporary headquarters for Johnson County Library, now home to K.C. Strings

-Beth Edson, Johnson County Library

Photos: Helen Hokanson, Johnson County Library

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Let’s go to the movies!

When it comes to Johnson County history, many roads lead to William Strang (1857-1921).  Strang is known for being a successful land developer and railroad executive, but he also holds the distinction of being the first person to bring motion pictures to Johnson County in 1915.  Strang decided it would be a good business move to bring entertainment to the residents of his suburban developments.  Traditionally, people who lived in Overland Park and other Johnson County towns had to venture to downtown Kansas City to enjoy a night out.  The motion picture industry was still in its infancy when Strang began showing the latest Hollywood movies on the side of a barn in Overland Park.  Strang’s efforts nearly 100 years ago paved the way for other businessmen to bring the movies, and new theaters, to Johnson County.

The neighborhood theater was the next step in the evolution of movie-watching.  The public enjoyed Strang’s outdoor shows, but in the 1920s, businessmen opened indoor theaters in Johnson County to keep up with the growing popularity of movies.  Several neighborhood theaters opened in Johnson County during the 1920s; the Trail in Olathe, the Bank in Lenexa, the Star in Overland Park, and the Mission Theater in Shawnee.  Unfortunately, some of these theaters closed during the Great Depression because of financial difficulties.

The Aztec Theater in Shawnee was originally known as the Mission Theater and operated from 1927 until 1975.

The Aztec Theater in Shawnee was originally known as the Mission Theater and operated from 1927 until 1975.

After World War II, business returned to normal and new theaters, including drive-ins, opened across the county.  In 1966, the crown jewel of Johnson County movie theaters opened in Overland Park.  The Glenwood Theatre featured an extravagant lobby and a main auditorium that seated over 800 customers.  For over 30 years, Johnson County residents flocked to the Glenwood to enjoy Hollywood’s latest offerings.

The Glenwood operated in Overland Park from 1966 until 2000.

The Glenwood operated in Overland Park from 1966 until 2000.

In the 1970s, the movie theater business changed.  Theater owners realized the potential of having numerous screens under one roof, and the age of the multi-plex began.  Many of Johnson County’s smaller neighborhood theaters and theaters with limited screens could not compete and were forced to close, including the Glenwood in 2000.

It seemed as if smaller theaters were a thing of the past, but in recent years, businessmen have revived some old local theaters to give customers a more intimate movie-going experience.  The Rio Theatre, originally built as the Overland Theatre in 1946, reopened to the public in 2000 and has been a steady attraction in downtown Overland Park.  The Glenwood Arts, Leawood Theatre and Standees all offer movie-goers an alternative to the many bustling multi-plex theaters that are prevalent in Johnson County.

– Matt Gilligan, Johnson County Museum

The Rio in Overland Park opened in 1946 as the Overland.  The one-screen theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

The Rio in Overland Park opened in 1946 as the Overland. The one-screen theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.

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Taco Via Enjoys a Cult Following

“Countdown to Taco Via:  In 7 days I will board a plane and travel 1,300 miles for Taco Via. If I could teleport, I would.”  Posted by Adam Hutton on the “I Love the Taco Via!!!” Facebook page, April 24, 2014.

 

Brooklyn, New York resident Adam Hutton grew up in Shawnee and returns home to Johnson County about once every 18 months.  Every time he visits, there is one mandatory stop on his itinerary; Taco Via.  On a recent trip, Hutton traveled directly from the Kansas City Airport to the landmark Mexican restaurant to feast on taco burgers and nachos.  For Hutton, eating at Taco Via is “an important, nostalgic tradition.”

Adam Hutton’s passion for Taco Via is not unique.  The Mexican eatery at 95th and Antioch in Overland Park enjoys a cult following that baffles longtime manager Tim Dengel.  “It’s nuts” says Dengel, who has run the store since 1994.  In 2011, Taco Via moved to a new location after the strip mall it had occupied since 1972 was torn down.  Opening day for the brand new Taco Via saw a line of people that stretched all the way to 95th Street before the restaurant had even opened for business. Dengel says he wasn’t worried about moving to a new location.  “They’ll find us,” he says with a laugh.

Taco Via's new home since 2011.

Taco Via’s home since 2011.

The new space is larger, features a digital menu, and has several flat-screen TVs mounted on the wall.  But the food, and even the employees, remain the same. Debbie Izard has over 40 years of experience behind the counter and she possesses a photographic memory of important dates in Taco Via history.  “We opened the new location on November 23, 2011,” Debbie says quickly when asked by Dengel.

Taco Via employee Debbie Izard.

Taco Via employee Debbie Izard.

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Some people grew up eating at Taco Via locations that are long gone (Ranchmart and 75th and Metcalf are two examples), but they still pledge allegiance to the brand. The “I Love the Taco Via!!!” Facebook group currently has 3,496 members from coast to coast.  Many locals and ex-Johnson Countians praise Taco Via on the page, and one woman even referred to eating there as “like a religious experience.” When it comes to Kansas City-area food traditions, barbecue joints usually come to mind. But for the devoted Taco Via fan base, a trip to 95th and Antioch, whether you’re coming from near or far, is at the top of the list.

– Matt Gilligan, Johnson County Museum

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White Haven Motor Lodge

The White Haven Motor Lodge was a landmark on Metcalf Avenue from 1957 until 2010. The White family who built it and owned it until 2008 has a long history in Overland Park. Hugh White brought his wife Mary and their four children to Johnson County in 1941 and bought Wolverine Dairy at 85th and Metcalf, which he operated until 1952.

Delivery truck for Wolverine Farm Dairy, 1948 (Hugh and Mary White).  Original: http://www.jocohistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/jcm/id/15007

Delivery truck for Wolverine Farm Dairy, 1948 (Hugh and Mary White).
Original: http://www.jocohistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/jcm/id/15007

Vehicles parked at the Wolverine Dairy farm for livestock sale, 1952.  Original: http://www.jocohistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/jcm/id/15042

Vehicles parked at the Wolverine Dairy farm for livestock sale, 1952.
Original: http://www.jocohistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/jcm/id/15042

Hugh closed the dairy and he and his sons began developing the farmland into the White Haven subdivision, which stretches from Metcalf Ave east to Lamar Ave and south from 83rd St to 87th St. Hugh’s son Bob and Bob’s wife Esther owned the first house in the new subdivision, and both helped to run the Lodge through 2008.

House construction in White Haven subdivision, 1953.  Original:  http://www.jocohistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/jcm/id/15050

House construction in White Haven subdivision, 1953.
Original: http://www.jocohistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/jcm/id/15050

White Haven motel excavation site  (Mary, Sheila and Esther White), 1957.  Original: http://www.jocohistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/ophs/id/179

White Haven motel excavation site (Mary, Sheila and Esther White), 1957.
Original: http://www.jocohistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/ophs/id/179

White Haven Motor Lodge, 1965.  Original: http://www.jocohistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/jcm/id/15099

White Haven Motor Lodge, 1965.
Original: http://www.jocohistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/jcm/id/15099

White Haven Motor Lodge sign.  Original: http://www.jocohistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/jcm/id/11599

White Haven Motor Lodge sign.
Original: http://www.jocohistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/jcm/id/11599

White Haven Motor Lodge postcard, 1965.  Original: http://www.jocohistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/jcm/id/15217

White Haven Motor Lodge postcard, 1965.
Original: http://www.jocohistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/jcm/id/15217

Want to learn more?

Johnson County’s The Best Times has a great article with further details about the Whites and their contributions to Johnson County and eastern Kansas: http://www.thebesttimes.org/joco/local_history/0911_whites_of_white_haven.shtml

Johnson County Museum wrote about the White Haven Motor Lodge and its place as a gem for tourists and locals alike: http://www.jocohistory.org/cdm/ref/collection/alb/id/312

The Pitch describes the auction after the White Haven Motor Lodge closed its doors for good: http://www.pitch.com/FastPitch/archives/2010/07/08/white-haven-motor-lodge-going-going-gone-updated

Did you ever stay at White Haven Motor Lodge? We’d love to hear from you!

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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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