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.
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 400 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.
(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
In 2013 the Barco said goodbye
to 35mm prints and was converted to digital.
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.