The Plaza Theater and the Barco Drive-In continue to entertain
LAMAR, MO. – The Plaza Theater in Lamar, Mo., originally opened in 1934 with the movie Student Tour.
The theater ran until Christmas 1985 when a fire broke out next door at the Mode O’Day clothing store, causing severe smoke damage to the theater. The theater was thoroughly cleaned and reopened, but closed again in May 1986 because the smokey smell was so horrific.
The building sat vacant until 1993 when a group of community members got together to pursue saving the Plaza Theater. They formed the Community Plaza Rescue and fundraising to renovate the theater. They were successful in their acts when the Plaza Theater reopened on Nov. 4, 1998.
Barco Drive-In first opened in the spring of 1950 just east of Lamar. A.J. Simmons was a local businessman who originally built and opened both the Plaza Theater and Barco Drive-In. Simmons ran the Plaza Theater until the drive-in opened, then hired Butler Felts to manage both theaters from 1950-1986. Felts later bought the drive-in and continued to run both until his passing in 2008. Wanda Felts still owns the drive-in but leases it to the Community Betterment of Lamar. Scott Kelley, manager of the Plaza Theater and Barco Drive-In, said 2021 marks 72 seasons the drive-in has been open.
Scott has worked at the Plaza Theater off and on since his high school days in the late 1970s.
“We got the theater reopened in 1998 and besides closing for a couple months during the pandemic this last year, we have been open ever since,” Scott said. “The town has really come together several times to help in different situations. In 2013, we had to get a new digital projector for the theater and the drive-in when the studios stopped making film. Last summer the community came together again when the digital projector crashed at the drive-in. We now have a 4K projector and it’s amazing.
“In the summer of 1985, there was a horrific storm with tornadic winds. It tore off part of the front of the Plaza Theater and it fell into the marquee. They had to take the original marquee off that summer. At the time, they did not believe it had affected the structure, but later they realized some of the rafters had shifted from the storm and had to put telephone poles in the building to keep the structure from falling.”
With renovations came costs, and many individuals and businesses within the community donated to save the Plaza Theater. On the sidewalk in front of the theater, there are stars with names of those who made $10,000 and $50,000 donations, and there are additional stars with names on the ceiling in front of the snack bar for those with $1,000 and $5,000 in donations.
“We just don’t have many theaters like this anymore,” she said. “Unfortunately, a lot of them have been torn down or are gone. There are original hand-painted murals on the walls have been here since 1934. The ceiling has all been redone but they used pictures and stenciled the original ceiling tiles to make it look like it did.”
The Plaza Theater has one movie room with a sloped balcony that goes into the floor. They generally show one film a week but during the summer, they have the additional summer vacation kid series where they show a kid movie during the week and have a sensory sensitive showing on Wednesdays. The Elks Lodge also sponsors a lot of school showings at the end of the school year, then the summer vacation movie series is sponsored by various individuals and businesses throughout the community.
Barco Drive-In is open on the weekends during the warm-weather months and is mostly in its original condition from 1950. The only change the installation of new electrical phase converters for the digital projector.
“I enjoy both theaters immensely,” Scott said. “It’s a neat feeling to see people come in and enjoy the movies and hear them laughing. There is nothing like watching a movie on a big screen with people. At the drive-in it is the same. A lot of people sit outside their car. Parents even bring their kids with playpens. It’s a neat thing to do as a family.”
Scott is from Lamar, and his wife Pam, son Zachary and his dad Don all help keep the theaters running, whether it is through maintenance or sales work.
The theater and drive-in try to show the newest movies, as well as many family movies. They also like to show new released faith-based movies. “You always try to focus on your customers to make sure they have an enjoyable time at the theater. We want them to have the most pleasurable experience possible.”