He Came for the Drive-In...


.....and stayed for the girl. This was my first thought as Scott told me the story of Butler Felts and the early days of the Barco Drive-In. In 1949 the owner of the Plaza Theater, A. J. Simmons contacted Butler about designing a drive-in in Lamar. Butler was currently working as the manager at the theater in Pittsburg. Intrigued by Simmons’ offer Butler headed to Lamar. When he got there he met his future wife Wanda and the rest, as they say is history. Well not quite; there is still more to the story but that is such a storybook beginning.

Construction began in the summer of 1949 on a 30 acre piece of farm land just 1.5 miles east of the Lamar Square. Not only did Butler design the Drive-In but he helped build it. It had a playground, stable for pony rides, snack bar (obviously) and room for 325-350 cars. The screen was not only big but also had an apartment on the first floor where Butler and Wanda lived for 16 years. In the early 1970's they built a house on the property and used the screen mostly for storage. 

On April 28, 1950 the new Barco Starvu Drive-In opened, just one week after Butler and Wanda were married. The drive-in opened with The Nevadian, a western starring Randolph Scott and Dorothy Malone. 

For the next 58 years Wanda and Butler ran the Barco, eventually buying the business from Harley Fryer in 1968. Butler still operated the Barco up until his passing on August 28, 2008. He was 84 years old. The Barco was then leased to Lamar’s Community Betterment, the same group that owns the Plaza. 

The Barco (dropping the Starvu in the 1950’s) has gone through several changes in the previous years including FM broadcasts in 1990 and double features in 2008. As of August of 2014 the Barco is one of only 3 Drive-Ins left in the area, the others being in Carthage and Aurora.

In 2013 the Barco said goodbye to 35mm prints and was converted to digital.

Although times have changed the charm and nostalgia of going to the Barco has not. Just about everybody who grew up in this area has a “Barco story”. It might be the pony rides in the early days or the fireworks Butler put on in the back of the drive-in every 4th of July. It may be the smell of popcorn or Wanda’s chili as you first step in to the snack bar. Or maybe it was running to see if you had the winning ticket stubs at intermission. Or it may be something as simple as taking your kids to see a movie and bringing them home wrapped up in a blanket. Just like your parents did when you were a kid.

Barco Photo Gallery

The first movie that played in 1950















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