Urbana Autoscope Drive-In

2867 U.S. 65,
Urbana, MO 65767

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kennerado on May 26, 2020 at 7:57 pm

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.

MichaelKilgore on May 26, 2020 at 3:18 pm

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.

davidcoppock on November 2, 2018 at 12:15 am

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?

Kenmore on March 28, 2018 at 4:05 pm

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.

davidcoppock on March 28, 2018 at 2:09 am

42 screens, not 1 screen.

dallasmovietheaters on September 3, 2015 at 8:38 am

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.

JCroley on January 2, 2015 at 2:45 pm

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.

JCroley on January 2, 2015 at 1:22 pm

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.

Lynda_Brown on July 15, 2014 at 7:54 pm

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

Kris4077 on October 16, 2013 at 11:31 am

Check out this website with some pictures Of the Tri-Circle Autoscope Drive-In in washington, which is on CT, just search for Tri-Circle. They are awesome http://www.film-tech.com/ubbpics/ubb672.html

Kris4077 on October 16, 2013 at 11:18 am

Occasionally when looking at satellite photos of drive ins I see one with a more rounded shape as oposed to the mor common triangular shape. I wonder if these might have been Autoscopes, Because I have seen satellite photos of a converted autoscope wich was round but had the ramps and a single screen on one end. Of course some Autoscopes were probably plowed under and rebuilt into a more traditional D-I. Just some food for thought when looking at satellite photos or historical arials of old D-I locations. You might also look for a more rounded concession stand. It sure would be nice to find out how many existed, alas we will probably never now.

texas25th on April 27, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Hello Mr Brown, I wish to Thank You for posting your information about Tom Smith and his Autoscope. I have a very dear friend who now lives in Waco Texas but grew up in Buffalo and Urbana on the family ranch off of 65 a stones throw away from the Autoscope. My friend O.K. Kelso first met Tom in front of the Dallas theater in Urbana at the young age of 14 as O.K. was very curious about the business and wanted to learn. Tom and O.K. quickly became very good friends along with Bob and Virgina while becoming a fantastic projectionist and technician working with Tom and Bob on many theater projects with the Autoscopes being a couple of them. He tells many a story about working with Tom helping him align the many mirrors in the mirror room of the booth and maintaining and aligning the screens. O.K. moved to Waco Texas 50 yrs ago today to continue his projectionist career which Tom and Bob had so graciously taught him. The move to Waco came during the time frame Tom was building the 2nd larger Autoscope of which O.K. custom built the amplifier system for Tom at his request. After O.K. left for Waco his communication with the Tom & Bob became somewhat distant however remained friends until Tom died of stomach cancer in 1965.

If you have any information on where Tom or Bob is buried he would greatly appreciate knowing. Also any additional pictures would be fantastic!

Thanks again!

bbrown1 on July 8, 2010 at 10:07 pm

That would be the Circle Autoscope Drive-In Theatre in Albuquerque, which I think is the only other one listed in Cinema Treasures besides the ones in Urbana and Buffalo. I have heard mention of an autoscope drive in in LaCenter KY, but have been unable to verify any other information about it.

Thanks for the link to the Boxoffice article about Tom Smith. I know he was still alive as recently as 1997. He would be about 84 if he is still alive. From talking to people who knew him, he really enjoyed the mechanical part of creating things more than he did the actual business of running a drive in.

CSWalczak on July 3, 2010 at 1:51 am

There was a mention and a small picture about Tom Smith’s Autoscope system (described there as “Private Movies”) in the November, 1953 issue of Mechanix (sic) Illustrated (click on the thumbnail captioned “New In Science”): View link

CSWalczak on July 2, 2010 at 11:56 pm

There are two pictures of the Buffalo Autoscope theater here (scroll down): http://www.americandrivein.com/states/mo.htm and a picture of a similar theater in Albuquerque, New Mexico here:http://www.drive-ins.com/pictures/nmtcirc005.jpg

bbrown1 on July 2, 2010 at 10:56 pm

You have to remember that in 1953, all television screens were tiny, and virtually all television programming was in black and white. Even if the show was broadcast in color, most of us had black and white televisions. So the concept of being able to see a movie in color on what would then have been considered a huge television screen would have been much more appealing at the time, especially in a small rural town. It has occurred to me you could reconstruct an autoscope with big screen television sets and DVD’s today! I have seen some of the equipment that was used to create the autoscopes, and it was a very complicated system that required lots of maintenance. I knew the people who eventually owned the Buffalo Autoscope, and that was the primary reason they converted to a conventional drive in after it had operated for about 20 years as an autoscope. The primary advantage of the autoscopes in the 50’s was that you could being a drive in theater to a very small town without a large investment. Later in the 70’s, there was an advantage that if you wanted to show “adult” movies at a drive in, you could do it without “offending” community morals, and being targetted by the authorities, as often happened to conventional “adult” drive ins, with their huge screens. The creation of VCR’s moved these movies to home video, and pretty much killed all of the “adult” theaters.

I have been trying to trace the history and existance of autoscopes, but since they were usually in small towns and/or short lived, it is difficult. I believe over the years there were actually quite a few.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on June 10, 2010 at 4:59 pm

I have a nice book on Drive-in Theatres from everywhere and they show this set up.

TLSLOEWS on June 10, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Yes Mike interesting idea,but it is like watching a big screen T.V. from your car,no wonder it did not last long,but they are always trying out something new in this crazy business.Thanks for the photos ken mc.

Mike Rogers
Mike Rogers on June 8, 2010 at 9:43 pm

I have seen pictures of this before.Interesting.But i would prefer a big screen.

kencmcintyre on March 23, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Here is an article about the drive-in from Boxoffice in August 1953: