Did You Know…
This Week in Sapulpa History – Zartaludes Announced Work Had Begun For Drive-In Theater
Rachel Whitney, Curator, Sapulpa Historical Museum
On November 7, 1949, James Zartaludes, of the Yale, State, Victorian (Criterion), and associate of Griffith Theaters, announced on this day the construction had begun for a Drive-In theater. Located west of Sapulpa along highway 66, just west of City Park Golf Course, Zartaludes purchased 9 acres for his newest project.
The original plans were to fit approximately 50 cars in for the shows. The lot was to be completed with in-a-car speakers, concession stand, and restrooms. The entrance and exits were designed on the eastern portion of the lot to allow room for traffic.
Additionally, the massive screen tower was to stand 40 feet wide and 30 feet high. “This is more than twice the size of the usual screen in the conventional indoor theater.”
As Zartaludes was an associate for Griffith Theaters, the company had built and operated several theaters in Oklahoma. Zartaludes had already owned, operated, and managed the Yale and Criterion Theaters in Sapulpa while building the new Drive-In, and he had high hopes for the outdoor-movie experience.
“‘Advantage of these outdoor theaters are numerous. Since the audience remains in their automobiles, they will feel free to go in the most comfortable attire. They may relax, eat, smoke, and talk. It will be more adaptable to the aged and infirm, and it will also eliminate the baby-sitting problem, as the children will be able to go to sleep in the back seat of the auto.’” Zartaludes explained. “[It] will be completed in time for early opening of the season next spring.”
More on Drive-In Theater in Sapulpa: Next Spring, exactly 6 months later to the date of the announcement, Zartaludes opens the entrance to the Drive-In for the first time to the public.
Back in late January 1950, the management from Yale and State theaters held a contest for the name for the newest attraction along Route 66. The advertisement read: “What Shall We Name It? Construction of Sapulpa’s new Drive-In Theater is rapidly progressing - and with the first sign of spring, it will be completed and ready to serve entertainment under the stars. But it has no name! Inasmuch as you, the people of Sapulpa and surrounding territory will be the patrons of the new Drive-In, we feel that you should select a name...”
To enter, an adult admission ticket to Yale or State had to be purchased between January 29th and February 4th. And with a blank suggestion card, a person would drop their suggestion for a name for the Drive-In.
On February 8th, 1950, it was announced that Mrs. Marie Wooden submitted her suggestion for the new business. For the prize, she received the 1950 Season Pass for 2 to the Drive-In. The name she suggested would forever be known to locals as the Tee-Pee Drive-In.
The opening weekend ran from May 5, 1950 to May 7, 1950 with John Wayne’s “Tycoon” airing on the screen. Tee-Pee Drive-In Theatre opened with a huge crowd. The audience got to enjoy a huge firework show, popcorn, candy, peanuts, cold drinks, hot dogs, and ice cream. Admission ran for 10 cents and 40 cents.
Side note: Since Sapulpa’s only Drive-In theater was a single screen, the theater was only able to run one movie at a time, whereas indoor movie theaters were able to feature multiple films in a single night, let alone a weekend. Zartaludes other theaters ran these films at their location during Tee-Pee’s grand opening weekend. Yale featured “Backfire”, “Vanishing Westerner”, and Disney’s “Cinderella”. And over at the Criterion, audiences watched “Mark of the Gorilla”, “Sunset Trail”, and “Dear Wife”. These movies cost customers around 45 cents to see the film of their wish indoors.
However, the crowd kept coming. With the overwhelming amount of customers, staff still managed to welcome the visitors with a “courteous, helpful manner.” The first in line were provided with clean windshields by attendants from the Sherrer Service Station (at 321 S Main). Other attendants directed the traffic and explained the easy-to-use in-a-car speakers, and how to park properly at the Drive-In. “The grounds of the Tee-Pee are arranged in rows – these rows are made of earth in shape of mounds. Simply park your car with the front elevated until you reach the desired position for perfect vision.”
Comments throughout the night were filled with excitement. “An evening well spent….We have finally found some place to spend our even’ngs without being forced to drive 15 miles during the hot summer months...You’ll find Ma, Pa, and the kids at the Drive-In...We’ve found our summer’s entertainment at the Tee-Pee."
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The information found on this page has been researched through Sapulpa (and area) newspapers, Sapulpa Historical Society archives, books, and photographs, Sapulpa yearbooks, city directories, and other local authors. Any other sources will be labeled and named as the research continues. Any mistakes will be noted and adjusted as needed.