Urbana Autoscope Drive-In
2867 U.S. 65,
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Previous Names: Urbana Multiscope Drive-In
This was the first "autoscope" drive in. It opened on July 30, 1953, and first feature shown was "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" starring Doris Day. Located 4 miles south of Urbana, it was owned and operated by Tom Smith of Urbana, who invented and patented the concept of "autoscope" drive ins, in which small individual screens were arranged in a circle, and the film was "back projected" on the screen from the projector in the center of the circle. Each car pulled up to its individual screen from the outside of the circle. The Urbana Autoscope Drive-In had space for 42 cars. The Urbana Multiscope Drive-In was closed in 1955.
On May 9, 1957 it reopened as the Urbana Autoscope Drive-In with Virgina Mayo in “Great Day in the Morning”. It operated for one season, closing later in 1957.
In 1954, Tom Smith opened the much larger Buffalo Autoscope Drive-In in nearby Buffalo which had a 122 car capacity.
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Here is the link
Hello Trey aka “texas25th”. Tom Smith was my great uncle. I’m Virginia and Bob Smith’s great grand-daughter. To answer your question, all three are buried side by side in Humansville, Missouri. Uncle Tom actually died from throat cancer in 1986 (he was not a smoker but they said he got it from serving in the service when he went to the Philippines). His brother Bob passed away the same year. My Great grandma passed in 2005 after suffering from Alzheimer’s for over 8 years. My, mom Cathy Brown-Romo is the oldest of the grand-daughters and she took care of grandma during her illness. She would love to talk to you and share memories and pictures. My personal email is .
I look forward to hearing from you! Lynda Brown
CSWalczak From you first link, the phone labeled “Another view of the autoscope.” is actually a photo of the “Mini Art Drive-in” just North of Joplin, Missouri. The owners of Mini Art Theaters bought the design patient from Tom Smith, who designed the Urbana and Buffalo drive-ins. The Mini Art is a replica of the Buffalo design and they built several of them, to include one in Springdale, Arkansas. You may notice the large fence around the Mini Art, whereas you do not see this in the Buffalo location. That is because the Mini Art was an adult theater and was shut down several times by the local prosecutor. It was quite a to do at the time, as you could imagine outdoor porn in the bible belt. All of the theaters have closed since then.
To further comment on the photo at http://www.americandrivein.com/states/mo.htm , the fact that it is a black and white photo threw me a bit since the Mini was built in the early to mid 70’s. But the number of screens, the fence, the adjacent properties, and the center building design all highly resemble the Mini. The center building at the Autoscope in Buffalo, MO (built after the Urbana Autoscope) was a wooden rectangular building holding the concession, projection booth and rest rooms. The Mini’s center building was round and made of concrete cinder blocks painted white with tall dark tented windows, similar to the photo.
Lynda Brown: My Grand Father, Albert “Bert” Croley Jr., was a 1/3rd owner of the Buffalo Autoscope along with Tom Smith. I knew him from the theater and visited his home once. He was one of the smartest and most fascinating people I ever knew growing up, and an amazing inventor.
Original owners closed the Urbana Autoscope at the conclusion of the 1955 season after just two years of operation. New operators Truman Bridges and Don Eagy reopened the unique ozoner for the 1957 season, the third and final season for the Autoscope.
42 screens, not 1 screen.
The poster says the autoscope was about 4 miles south of Urbana at Way’s Station. I’ve yet to find any info about “Way’s Station”, so it could be a few things (town, gas station, etc.)
Looking on Google Maps, I cannot find any trace of the autoscope along the stretch of HWY 65 near where the poster says it was located. Any information would be helpful to locate the very first autoscope drive-in.
Also opened with a cartoon and shorts(not named). Opened as Urbana Multiscope Drive-in. Closed at the end of the 1955 season. Reopened on 9/5/1957 as Urbana Autoscope Drive-in with a cartoon and selected short(not named) and “Great day in the morning”. Date of reclosure unknown?
The Independent Film Journal had a very lengthy article about Tom Smith and the Multiscope in its Sept. 19, 1953 issue, available at the Internet Archive. Some highlights:
The Multiscope sold out most nights, with the show starting as soon as all 40 slots were occupied. “I had no idea that this small working model would turn into a regular schedule run theatre,” Smith said.
He thought it would be cheap to build because the Multiscope needed “very little underground wire, no large structures, no screen tower, no buildings over seven feet in height, no ramping and very little grading.” And the low profile made it harder for storms to damage.
He planned to adapt to show wide-screen and CinemaScope “as soon as possible,” but was busy that year with the business of booking films and running the drive-in.
I’ve found the location, it was located opposite the Dallas County Speedway, approximate address is 2867 U.S. 65, Urbana. The “Way’s Station” building still exists and looks like it was a gas station/garage at the time. Unfortunately the autoscope has been completely demolished, It’s present in a 1955 aerial photo but the site has been cleared by a 1983 image. Looking at Google Street View it looks like the wooden roadside marquee frame may be the sole surviving remnant of the world’s first autoscope.